My husband and I were having dinner the other night at our club when our server approached our table and asked us if we “minded” giving her our membership number. Kiddingly, I said I minded but did give her the membership number. However, this prompted a comment from her that when speaking to other members- (who are mostly Baby Boomers), she had to speak carefully or watch her phrasing  so she would not offend the member. Specifically, she mentioned it was often wiser to address the male member rather than the female member when asking for the membership number. She noted that the one or two times she addressed the female, the male promptly interrupted and gave her the membership number.

This brief conversation prompted me to give some thought about how communication differs among generations. As mediators, perhaps we should vary our approach depending on the generation sitting (virtually) before us.

An article written by Vanessa Van Edwards entitled “How to Communicate with People From Different Generations” on the Science of People website discusses what each generation values and how best to communicate with them.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) value respect and tradition.  Thus, as our server discovered, talking respectfully, preferably to the gentleman of the group is preferred. Their opinions and life experience should matter and so our server should be deferential. (Id.)

But in speaking with Gen Xers (born 1965 to 1979), our  server needs to take a different approach (as does the friendly mediator.) The approach should be one that takes pressure off of them and addresses their needs. So, ask, “How I can help you?” and NOT “Can you help me?”  This generation values shared responsibility and so wants partners, helpers and support from those around them. (Id.)

Then we have the Millennials (born 1980-2000). While our friendly server  may see fewer of these than baby boomers, as a mediator, I will definitely see this generation and so need to be cognizant of their communication style.  According to this article, I should ask for their opinion, value their ideas and help them create their solutions. That is, brainstorm with them so they feel invested and part of the team. (Id.) Why? Because they value self-expression.  They love to express their opinions as evidenced by their very heavy use of social media and social networking platforms. (Id.)

And finally, we come to Gen Z (born after 2000). These youngsters were born with technology.  The digital age is the only thing they know. They are used to everything being faster and bigger. And… as we all know, they are easily distracted. So, to communicate with them, one must quickly (and I do mean quickly) get right to the point. And it is probably best to use digital communication rather than plain old face-to-face or verbal conversation. That is, send a text, DM, Facebook message, etc.  Make the message short and to the point (280 characters??) and under no circumstances, make it sound like a lecture. (Id.)

We are often reminded that when we engage in public speaking, we should alter the presentation to fit the audience. This bit of wisdom seems  equally true when we are one-on-one with people as with our friendly server or with a small group- as in a mediation. The generation of the audience matters and how we communicate with that generation will make a difference.

… Just something to think about.



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