How to Speak so Gen X Will Listen

Posted by

In my last blog (see previous post: How to Speak So Boomers Will Listen), I discussed the Baby Boomers, the generation that was born between 1946-1964. In this blog, I’m going to discuss what events shaped the Gen X psyche and what key words to use when talking with them. As a reminder:


Who are the four generations?

Traditionalists: Born between 1924-1945
Baby Boomers: Born between 1946-1964
Generation X: Born between 1965-1980
Generation Y: Born between 1981-2000

Each of these generations was influenced by certain events that shaped their psyche during their formative years. The formative years tend to take place 10-20 years after a person was born, so let’s look at the events that shaped Gen X during their formative years.


Generation X
Born between 1965-1980
Formative years between approx. 1976-1990

Not only did Gen X face three recessions and stagflation during their formative years, but they also dealt with the aftermath of Watergate, the beginning of the Gulf War and the unprecedented Challenger explosion. From these events, Gen X often felt that they couldn’t trust their government to look after them.

In addition, Gen X saw divorce rates skyrocket. Latchkey kids, after-school daycare and full-time working mothers became the norm. What did Gen X take away from this? That they often couldn’t trust their family to take care of them either.

During this time, they also saw career situations change. No longer were their Boomer relatives safe in a job for thirty years. All of a sudden, jobs were getting cut and career stability was eroding. Consequently, Gen X’ers received MBA degrees in droves, so that they could be “safe” from all the workplace changes.

MTV also changed their world. This allowed them a place to escape to. It also gave Gen X access to celebrity lifestyles; being ostentatious was hip if it meant you could be a “Material Girl” like Madonna.

Gen X felt early on that they couldn’t trust their government, the corporate world or their families from disintegrating in front of their eyes. So they tend to be self-sufficient and pragmatic. They also tend to be distrustful of hierarchy, based on what they saw in their formative years; therefore they MUST know what’s in it for them before they take any action. Finally MTV taught them how to be individualistic and view material wealth differently than their parents.

Now that you understand which events shaped this generation, and how Gen X view the world, how can you best connect with them? You use key words that resonate with them. When you do this, they then feel understood and are willing to listen to you. You build rapport, so they will engage with you more willingly. If you continue to use their key words, you will have an effective conversation with them, simply by using their own language.


Key Words for Gen X

  • Best, finest, world-class
  • “You will benefit by…”
  • ”This is in your best interest.”

So if you’re trying to convince a Gen X’er to launch a new website, you would say something like “This website is going to best in the industry. You will be seen as the creative visionary who inspired the team to launch a new concept. I’ve done my research and the best way to go about it systematically is….”

You wouldn’t use the same language when trying to convince a Gen Y, Boomer or Traditionalist to launch a new website. They have their own key words that resonate best with them. Yet using the Gen X key words, and understanding the Gen X psyche, will help you bridge the cultural gap.

Remember, you will not succeed when trying to change a generational perspective. You will only succeed when tailoring your pitch to each generation. In other words, speak their language. When you do this, they feel more connected to you and more willing to answer your questions. This then helps you overcome their concerns and move forward.

My next blog will cover the key words to use for Gen Y. Until then, practice your Gen X language and let me know how it goes!

Get Monthly Leadership Tips from Anne Loehr
Is your leadership ready for the future workplace? 

Leave a Reply