Think about the communication style of a baby boomer versus the way that a millennial communicates. We see the younger generation with their heads bent down looking at a phone screen. They will often communicate with each other by texting, even when they are in the same room. What? They don’t even look up to cross the street!
Baby boomers find it difficult to deal with because they are used to communicating the old fashioned way – looking someone in the eye when we talk to them. I remember being taught that if someone couldn’t look you in the eye they weren’t to be trusted.
You can see how this might be a barrier to communication in the world of work, not only between co-workers but between customers and employees.
Another business owner recently told me that he has a young man working for him who has a lot of body rings and tattoos. He asked him to cover them up when he went on customer service calls. With one particular elderly client, this young man went to service the account and his tattoos wer covered. Everything was fine. But when he returned for additional work, it was hot and he had short sleeves on, revealing his sleeve of tattoos. The customer called the owner and told told him never to send that kid out to him again. You might say he was being very narrow minded, which he was. But it just goes to show that people will do business with people that they know, like and trust, and if a business owner doesn’t appear trustworthy, he may lose business!
At the same time, a millennial or generation x customer might form a bias about a business person with gray hair, thinking they’re not hip or “with it” enough to do the job. I have experienced this sort of unspoken attitude myself as a web designer. Of course no one ever says “I’m not going to hire you because I think you’re too old!” I can just sort of “feel it”. It might be especially true in my industry because it is so technologically oriented and many baby boomers are not up to snuff on technology.
So what’s the solution? Well if you don’t care what your customers think and you only want to work with people who will take you as you are, then I guess you can do nothing as an option. But if you want to do everything you can to please as many customers as possible, then you make adjustments. Of course it’s easier to cover up the tattoos on your arm than it is to cover up your gray hair if you’re like me and don’t believe in using hair dye.
I make those adjustments in other ways. I really listen to my clients or potential clients needs. I make suggestions about how to handle their online presence which show that I have the skills and experience necessary to do a good job for them and give them what they want, even if it’s a hip, modern website!
of course it takes a degree of open mindedness on the part of the customer as well. If he or she is just going to shut someone out because they have a lot of tattoos, that’s going to be hard to overcome. Inter-generational differences are not new. I remember my parents hating rock and roll and thinking it was corrupting the youth!
With baby boomers staying in the workforce longer and millennials entering the workforce at the age of 20 or 21, there are bound to be many differences in their communication styles, work habits and values. We all need to be more open minded about the value that each generation brings to the table. Millennials can teach baby boomers how to use technology to their advantage, while baby boomers can teach millennials how to communicate on a one to one basis. They can lend their many years of experience to help temper the sometimes over zealous youth who want to jump in to a situation full speed without much forethought.
Rather than looking at baby boomers as has-beens and millennials as lacking in work ethic, let’s take advantage of the vast skills and resources that each generation brings to move a business forward in a positive direction. It will go much more smoothly if we learn how to communicate with each other.