Recently I went to a training event where a speaker educated the audience about "generation differences" (read: stereotypes). Have you ever had someone educate you on a theory and in the same presentation, disprove their theory? The number of times I have watched this happen in these generational trainings is incredible. They are all continuing to bark up the wrong tree! And company leaders and employees are buying it! Let me break down her approach for you step-by-step.
At the Starting Gate
Yet again, this talk started with the all-too-familiar generational stereotype charts. You know, the ones that look like the one below, putting everyone in a neat, tidy little box:
I will give the speaker some credit -- she left out a lot of the common stereotypes and tried not to "fit anyone into a box". Unlike vetted personality assessments like Myers-Briggs, these tables are not based on "solid research". They are loosely drawn generalizations, attempting to make sense of a completely new reality.
The part of these tables which we should focus on and critically discuss is the section where we consider the historical events that occurred during each generation's developmental years. Events certainly shape societies and culture of young people growing up at that time.
What we should be very careful with doing, however, is mixing conclusions drawn from generation vs. age.
For example, people who are typically starting their career are ambitious, desire to go up the ladder quickly, and want feedback. Those are pretty much the given qualities of go-getter mentality individuals.
Do me a favor. Next time someone presents one of these tables to you, look around the room. How many people appear to feel like they belong in their generation, in their little box? You'll see a number of raised eyebrows, that's a promise.
After reviewing this table, we eventually made our way to an activity. One of the talk's central principles centered on identifying "communication differences" between generations and used this popular generational communication comic to describe these differences. And this is what we then disproved.
Through this activity, we went around the room -- composed of 9-5 corporate employees anywhere from 25 to 55 -- and each individual shared what would look like a good way to approach communication with them. Every individual had their quirks and preferences for communication. One thing that was common however, was that there was no commonality among generational groups for email, text, or face to face preferential communication. In other words, there were 60-year-olds who preferred email. Why? Because it got the job done for a particular case. There were young people that preferred face to face. And lo and behold, most people? We all preferred a combination.
So what do we learn here? Communication methods have nothing to do with what generation you're in.
They have to do with the particular situation and information you are trying to convey. The only piece that had anything to do with generation was what stage of technological evolution was the individual in. But once one is exposed to technology, it simply becomes a matter of personal preference and choice of what technology to use.
What I learned from this presentation was that the more times I hear the wrong message, the more issues we will have in the workplace. It is critical to understand what the real issues are instead of focusing on what sets us apart as generations.
What other blatantly incorrect Generational Stereotypes have you seen?
Disclaimer: There are two common questions I get to my point of view above.
The first is, well why is it so hard to get my kids on the phone then? The answer to that is when kids are teens and then adults, they all start talking to their parents less. You did it. Your kids are going to do it. It's a part of growing up -- don't worry they'll talk to you more and more, especially as they get into family mode.
The second is, what is up with all the texting? Millenials definitely text. It's a new option on our table of communication methods. What I've noticed is that once parents start texting their kids back, guess what? It's a good way to communicate. The real question is setting the right boundaries, educating on when is the right time to text vs. call. And ensuring we continue to teach essential skills like writing and spelling in school (this is a hot topic being debated in the state education topics currently). If we, as adults, do not require schools to teach our children these skills, we will have a lot of autocorrect communication issues in the workplace.