Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to work with a wide variety of cultures in most every industry. Some were much better at communicating than others. And yet, should you ask any employee from any of those organizations what they would improve if given the opportunity, they would most assuredly say: “Improve communication.” Even though communication levels may be better than most, employees almost always feel it could be much better.
That challenge seems to be growing as we find ourselves currently working with four different generations in today’s workplace. Seldom do we recognize this unique circumstance and therefore, as a result, we neglect to deal with it.
They say “practice makes perfect.” Here’s an interesting exercise that will demonstrate exactly how difficult it is to communicate across generations. While you may find yourself smiling, and even laughing aloud, during this exercise, you’ll also experience a certain level of frustration and maybe the realization that we need much more practice when it comes to this critical skill.
- Mature (GI + Silent) (1909-1945, 64+)
- Baby Boomers (1946-1964, 45 to 63)
- Generation X (1965-1982, 27 to 44)
- Generation Y (1982-2000, 9 to 27)
This exercise works best when pairing a Mature or Baby Boomer with a member of Generation X or Generation Y. The instructions are elementary. The Mature or Baby Boomer simply explains each of the following products, technologies, toys, etc. The Generation X or Generation Y member merely listens and asks questions if necessary.
You might be surprised how the conversation unfolds. Upon completion, you’ll clearly understand why we struggle to communicate well in the workplace and that we do indeed need more practice.
Explain the following:
- Explain laundry detergent containing free glasses, dishes or towels hidden inside the box.
- Explain how it took five minutes for the TV warm up.
- Explain how no one ever asked where the car keys were because they were always in the car, in the ignition, and the doors were never locked.
- Explain the pains of telephone party lines.
- Explain how placing baseball cards in the spokes transformed any bike into a motorcycle.
- Explain how the worst thing you could catch from the opposite sex was “cooties.”
- Explain how decisions were made by going “eeny-meeny-miney-moe.”
- Explain that nearly everyone’s mom was at home when the kids got home from school and what a difference it made.
- Explain the Fuller Brush Man.
Describe the following:
- Describe how all your male teachers wore neckties and female teachers had their hair done every day and wore high heels.
- Describe the ugly gym uniforms the girls had to wear.
- Describe candy cigarettes.
- Describe the newsreels and cartoons before every movie.
- Describe the joys of a pea-shooter.
- Describe what Blackjack, Clove and Teaberry chewing gum tasted like.
Knowing the difficulty of that task, you can better understand why workplace communication can be such a challenge!