Eliminating Communication Barriers Among Generations: An Interview with Patty Bowen

This week we discuss how Baby Boomers can best communicate with Millennials. This YouTube video offers insight into this discussion.  We’ve also asked Patty Bowen, local HR Patty Bowenprofessional, to answer a few questions. Below are her responses.

What do you find to be the biggest hindrance to effective communication among different generations?

In my opinion, there are two main hindrances to effective communication between the generations:  stereotyping or pigeon holing a generational group and an unwillingness to compromise or be willing to modify your own personal communication style.

This unwillingness to compromise is not dedicated to any specific generational group. Preconceived notions of a particular age have been around for hundreds of years. In the 19th century, living to age 50 was old. In the sixties it was ‘never trust anyone over thirty’, and in today’s world fifty is viewed as relatively young. With the advancement of technology, medical enhancements, a better understanding of the importance of living an active healthy lifestyle, opportunities for professional development,and people remaining in the workforce longer whether by necessity or for enjoyment, our world is a very different place than it was even twenty years ago.

Can you offer any solutions?

The best advice anyone can have to communicate effectively between the generations is to be open- minded.  Do no assume that all Millennials are technology savvy and Boomers are not. It is the Boomer generation, after all, who developed many of today’s technologies.  It is important that if you are unfamiliar with a term, a concept, or technological model, to ask about it and be receptive to the answer. If you are uncomfortable asking a younger person (or vice versa) a question on an unfamiliar subject, seek out the answer elsewhere.   Go online; the world is at your fingertips. Or, if you are not proficient on the computer, look it up in a reference book.

No matter what your age, learn how to navigate the internet and learn new software applications.  Computers are here to stay! Knowing how to work an X-box or play ‘Angry Birds’ is not going to help you advance in the workplace, but on the other hand, understanding that there is more to computers than  word documents,  spreadsheets, and workplace proprietary programs will allow for thoughtful, insightful conversations in the workplace, no matter what your age.

In Sylvia’s YouTube video, she gives three suggestions for Baby Boomers to best communicate with Millennials: using modern technology for communication, outlining expectations, and offering valuable feedback. Which of these would you say is most important? Can you add to this list?

Millennials, or those who were born between 1980 and 2000 (some say 1981-1999), typically have grown up with devoted parents with very structured lives.  They have participated in many activities that involve teamwork– so much more than just baseball or basketball teams. Because of these team interactions, they are used to formalized, constructive feedback and look for input on their performance as individuals as well as members of a team.  They want to be recognized, and they want to become achievers.  They have been taught to become achievers by doting parents.   Providing feedback is one of the best ways to communicate with Millennials—actually, with any age group.  Feedback should be timely, focused on performance rather than personality, and consistent among all workers.

Because Millennials are used to working in teams, they look at the workplace as not just a job, but as a place where they can socialize and make new friends. It is important that they have work-life balance.  Due to the team concepts that they have grown up with, they are used to working with a diverse network of individuals. You want to establish a positive, constructive relationship, give them the ability to work with a diverse group, help them understand the big picture objectives of a project yet let them know how valuable their own personal contribution will be to achieving that project goal.

Do you believe Baby Boomers find Millennials a threat to their success? Conversely, do you believe Millennials find Baby Boomers a threat to their success? Please explain.

I could answer both yes and no to this question, but then I would be stereotyping a generational group and not looking at individual characteristics of the workers. Just as not all Boomers were hippies and attended Woodstock, it is also not true that all Millennials were into grunge or attended Bonnaroo.  (Not sure what I am talking about? Look it up!)

Baby Boomers should not look at a Millennial as a threat; they should consider this a time when they can share their knowledge and be a mentor to their successor. A supervisor or manager is only as good as the employees that work for them. Of course, not everyone is a supervisor or manager, but at any age, you can be a mentor.

As a Boomer, look at this opportunity to learn new concepts from Millennials.   Help them find their way within an organization. If you feel threatened by what you perceive to be their superior computer abilities, take the time to learn some new programs yourself. If you are a Millennial, do not assume that the Boomer is out- dated and does not know what is happening; I can introduce you to Boomers who would put your computer skills to shame!   Also, as a Millennial, you need to understand that it is not your ‘right’ to come into the workplace and immediately become the boss. You need to work your way up through the company, just as those before you did.  Just because someone is what you consider ‘old’, do not think she’s ready for the grave. Many Boomers are not staying in the workplace just to keep you from advancing; they are staying actively engaged because they enjoy what they do and are good at it; or maybe they are still paying for some of those Millennial College loans!  : )

About Patty Bowen

With 20+ years’ experience in business, Ms. Bowen has held multifaceted roles delivering a variety of positive results in sales, training, human resources, customer service, and business and workforce development.  Currently, she works in the Human Resources Department as Coordinator, Professional Development at HACC, Harrisburg Area Community College, and is an adjunct faculty member at Eastern University’s Campolo College of Graduate and Professional Studies. Previously, she served as the Sales and Marketing Director for Emeritus at Harrisburg, a senior personal care and memory care community. Patty also worked at UPS for 15 years and was a member of the Pennsylvania Workforce Investment Board within the PA Department of Labor and Industry.

She  earned her Associate’s degree in Business Studies at HACC, and her Bachelor’s in Applied Behavioral Science and  Master’s in Education in Adult Training and Development from Penn State – Harrisburg.  In addition, she has a certificate in HR Management. She is a member of SHRM and ASTD. *

*Comments made are from the professional, personal, and educational experiences of Ms. Bowen and are only intended for guidelines and informational purposes.

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