Bridging the Generational Communication Barrier

By: Cheryl Viola, Executive Director, MBA

For the first time in history, there are five (5) generations in the workplace, this poses an interesting communication challenge. More and more people work long past the ‘traditional’ retirement age and as new generations enter the workforce a communication gap has emerged. The act of communicating is not new, humans have communicated with each other since the caveman era. Communication is people sharing ideas, opinions, or information. Learning how to navigate generational divides will ease miscommunication between generations in the workplace.

The Traditionalists were born before 1965. Their communication style is formal, they do not enjoy the idol office chit chat. They have the “get the job done attitude” and “work before play”. They struggle with the more relaxed workplace, and their preferred communication is formal letters and face-to-face conversations.

The Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. They prefer in-person face to face or telephone communication. Typically, most do not like email or texting. They value background information and details.

Gen X born between 1965 – 1980. This generation is the early adopters of email and prefers short brief messages instead of lengthy ones. They appreciate informal and flexible communications using email, phone, text, and face-to-face. They also value professional etiquette. Their ability to adapt to technology enables them to connect with the younger generations.

Millennials born between 1981 – 1996. Millennials prefer transparent and visual communications. This generation will often overstep the chain of command and want direct access to the CEO. They like to have communication written, using text and emails.

I had the experience where at the end of an hour-long team meeting, a millennial took some notes throughout the meeting and as they were leaving my office turned and said, “can you send me all this in an email?” Learn each other’s preferred communication style, compromise and find effective ways to bridge the communication barrier.

Generation Z born after 1997. This generation grew up with the internet and have spent much of their lives in front of screens. They follow Millennials with the preference for transparent and visual communications. Unlike Millennials, Gen Z prefers face-to-face, YouTube, Facetime, TikTok, and Video approach. 

The biggest barrier to cross-generational communication is negative perceptions of each other.  We put labels and stereotypes on each generation. Just because a person is a Millennial doesn’t mean that they have the “entitled” attitude. Remember the Baby Boomers thought Gen X was “entitled” too. The best way to bridge the communication barrier is to communicate! This means being open with your team about the team member’s preferred communication style and find a happy middle ground that everyone is comfortable with.

Learn what each generation brings to the workplace. Face-to-face communications can help eliminate a lot of problems. When in team meetings, encourage Millennials and Gen Z to take notes and ask questions. Likewise, Millennials and Gen Z can teach the older generations how to effectively use technology. Understand that the older generations are accustomed to the traditional hierarchy in the business structure. They were taught to act when they see something needs to be done. Gen X and Gen Z have more of an entrepreneurial spirit. Some team members may need words of affirmation and appreciation. Regardless of the generation, you fall into the one thing that all generations can do is express kindness to each other. The best way to mitigate communication misunderstandings is to talk face-to-face, reading body language, and hearing the influx of tone.


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