Generational Communications Gap
by Chief Master Sgt. Jorge Mustafa
I recently read a very interesting article that focused on a possible motive for many of the major challenges we're facing today. Chaotic examples of disruptive scenarios were shared from the area of politics, sports, the economy, today's workplace, entertainment, employment, health care concerns, immigration, education, war, and family structure to name a few. It suddenly became quite apparent that there's a growing communication problem within our society today, and it's impacting just about everything we do.
The importance of good communication skills has long been acknowledged as a necessary skill for anyone striving for success. Our society has recognized, taught, debated and focused on this skill set for as long as I can remember. Then why the sudden epidemic leading to chaos in so many situations? The author suggested that it might be more than just communication skills. He suggests that it might very well be based on more of a "generational" clash than on a lack of communication skills. True, the ability to converse with one another is critical today more than ever as global cultures clash, technology advances at a tremendous speed, and the world becomes "flatter" by the minute. However, is our lack of ability to converse successfully a result of declining communication skills or simply a more vivid example of our society existing of so many living generations who simply don't make the time or effort to understand one another? And yet we're forced to live and work together, making critical decisions impacting those around us who may very well have no idea as to what may have influenced our decision-making process.
To illustrate the generational point in communications gap, the following is a listing of recent generations for individuals born in the United States. Dates are approximate, as recognized by demographers. As you review the list, try to visualize someone you may know from each of the generations.
2001-Present -Generation Z also called Generation I (Internet)
1982-2000 - Millennials or Generation Y
1965-1981 - Generation X
1946-1964 - Baby Boomers
1925-1945 - "The Greatest Generation" or Silent Generation
As you review the list of those you visualized, think about the many vast differences in each generation. Consider their childhoods, parents, education, technology, politics, religious influences, work ethics, global exposure, etc. Obviously, there are tremendous differences in each generation, and yet today we're forced to interact in a number of various scenarios. For instance, my grandchildren were exposed to computer operation and speaking English (in Puerto Rico) in kindergarten. At that same age, I majored in sliding my nap rug across the classroom floor on my stomach, and the highlight of my day was devouring graham crackers and milk every afternoon!
As I reflect on the article that I mentioned, maybe this author has struck a critical chord that demands closer scrutiny. As a society, we've acknowledged generation gaps, written books about them extensively and even discuss them in the classroom. However, have we really taken these studies seriously and made an effort to understand how we differ in so many ways from one generation to the next? Do we seriously realize the negative consequences that might result if these gaps continue to widen? If, after reading the following information, you realize the need to broaden your perspective on this critical issue, I implore you to seek out the numerous studies and books available on the subject.
Just in case you weren't feeling old enough today...read this. Each year the staff at Beloit College in Wisconsin puts together a list to try to give the faculty a sense of the mindset of this year's incoming freshman. Here are a few points they list that define Gen Y or Millennials and may help us to understand where they are coming from. This generation has probably never "rolled down" a car window. They have grown up with bottled water. Most of them have never know what it is like not to have a computer that is connected to the internet readily available in their homes. Cell phones have always been there since they were born. For them, Rap music has always been mainstream. Wal-Mart has always been a larger retailer than Sears and has always employed more workers than GM. Stadiums, Rock-n-Roll tours and sporting events have always had corporate names. The space program has never really caught their attention except in disasters. The World Wide Web has been an information source since they were born. They have never known a world with the Berlin Wall.
It's a wonder we can even speak to each other. More importantly, it's a wonder we can really understand one another even half the time. Many times we just don't "get" one another. It is important to remember that no one generation is more correct or incorrect than another. They're all just enormously different from one another.
So what conclusion can we come to as a result of study and reflection on these generational gaps? Take time to really understand where the other generation is coming from. What is important to them in their daily lives and what values to they place importance in? By embracing the differences we all bring to our our units, we can build a high performing team of diverse individuals who can solve difficult problems by approaching them from different angles. We can effectively utilize the unique talents we all bring to meet the challenges we face today while ensuring all members feel valued and engaged.