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A generational divide: Why millennials and Baby Boomers can’t communicate

(AP Photo/Dave Collins)

Frustratingly dismissed, irritatingly misunderstood, and inefficiently overlooked, Millennials in the workforce are running into communication issues. The dogmatic tactics of Baby Boomers are just not translating. Often perceived as ineffective, how can Millennials deliver their ideas successfully?

The relationship between Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Millennials (1981-2000) is morphing from a dependent status to a professional engagement. A 2015 Pew Research study found that one-in-three US workers are Millennials.

The transition is riddled with communication issues which take their root in generational temperament styles. A leading expert in temperament, David Keirsey defines temperament as “a configuration of inclinations, while character is a configuration of habits.”

If character is the software, then temperament is the hardware. Individuals have unique temperaments and so do generations. It is the differing communication styles between these generational temperaments which stymie progress.

As a generation, Millennials exhibit strong Rational (NT) tendencies. These intuitive thinkers are predisposed to like efficacy, accuracy, and autonomy. Naturally curious, they enjoy science, technologies, and complex subjects. As communicators, they are abstract in their language. They are more likely to talk about conceptual truisms and theories than gossip about the neighbors. An example of an abstract topic is, “What does it mean to be ‘free’ in America?”

Conversely, Baby Boomers as a group display more Artisan (SP) tendencies. These hedonic, tactical, hot-blooded types are persuasive and adaptable. They are quick to make up their minds and just as quickly change it. Sometimes called narcissistic and recklessly impulsive, they are tactically savvy. As communicators, they are concrete in their language. They are interested in talking about what is going on at the moment. They are very literal and seem not to care for philosophic chatter. An example of a concrete topic is, “Did you catch the game last night?”

Having little in common, these groups often have separate conversations when they talk. There are ways, however, for millennials (Rational: NT) to eliminate or mitigate ineffective conversation habits and instead get their ideas heard.

LEAVE OUT THE DETAILS

Yes, it is painful, but Baby Boomers (Artisan: SP) are overwhelmed by details, facts, and figures. Under valuing research, Baby Boomers perceive Millennials as “know-it-alls” with no experience. Don’t let data reinforce that negative stereotype. You can let them know that details are available, but let them ask for it, instead of leading with it.

TASK MASTERS

Baby Boomers (Artisan: SP) are task oriented. They give an order and expect it done, no questions asked. Millennials (Rational: NT,) on the other hand, need to understand the big picture, so they don’t waste effort. It follows that millennials would want to ask a few helpful questions, however a task master starts feeling threatened after about three questions. Use your limited Q&A wisely.

NEVER ASK WHY

When you are compelled to ask a question, avoid “Why” at all cost. “Why” makes people defensive almost as quickly as misquoting them. Get creative and change your “Why” into a “How” or “What.” The minor shift changes the negative feelings associated with the questions. While this may sound like a waste of effort, Baby Boomers (Artisan: SP) are emotionally driven. They are extremely sensitive to this nuance. It will mitigate defensiveness.

Every year more Millennials are moving into positions of authority, and Baby Boomers are retiring. This transition won’t run smoothly without better communication. Learning how to communicate across generations through the psychology of temperament just might unlock a symbiotic working relationship.


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