SUMMARY: Change is happening so fast, we don’t recognize that each generation uses different methods and technology to request help. When we don’t understand it, there is the potential for frustration and unmet expectation.
Need Exchange Methods
The World of Asynchronous Communication.
Because the world is so accelerated with change, generations are becoming more unique than in other any time in history. Generation X (born from 1964 to 1980) had 18 years too slowly make workplace transitions.
How do you communicate NEED EXCHANGE? Need exchange is when you have a request for something – and you need to ask another individual for their help. The Baby boomers grew up using hand written letters and eventually telephones as their primary vehicle to express needs. Having a landline to receive phone calls were important. And status was shown when you had a secretary (or politically corrected later in the years, an administrative assistant.). The assistant was there to field those requests and respond to them.
Generation X started with landlines – but augmented them with voice mail. That was a monumental shift in how technology enabled needs to be deposited without a person needing to be tethered to their desk. But soon enough, along came the computer. And email. And Gen X would soon be buried in emails. In the 90’s, entire management classes were devoted to managing email and setting up Microsoft Outlook. The live conversations from the telephone moved from synchronous to asynchronous. You could batch your responses at the beginning or end of your day – and become more efficient, a hallmark of Generation X.
Millennials, or Generation Y, once again had technology that introduced whole new paradigms for need exchange. They started by watching their baby boomer and Generation X parents get buried in emails. And they received those emails in the early days. But very quickly, their mobile phone and text messaging became a faster and more efficient way to ask for and receive needs. Today, they very thought of having to spend more than 30 minutes on emails for a Millennial is torture and unnecessary. But if you look at their phone usage, you will typically see 5-10 ongoing conversations happening on an ongoing basis.
So – let’s recap.
Based upon your generation, how did you express your needs in the workplace?
Babyboomers – In person, on the phone or with long form written letters.
Generation X – Voice Messages or emails
Generation Y or Millennials – Social chat rooms or text messages.
I recap these because it is important to understand how a generation things about how they express needs and conversation.
Recently, I observed a frustrated baby boomer manager and a new Millennial in the workplace. The Boomer manager needed information. Trying to be “tuned in” to the new workplace, he resisted sending it down the pyramid of channels. He tried to go directly to the individual, which is a preference for Millennials. The conversation sounded like this:
BB: Hello. I am (leader). I need your help in getting some information. We have a client who is interested in some data. I understand you can quickly pull data on X topic.
Millennial: Yes. I can.
BB: Ok. Well. Did you sent it?
Millennial: When do you need it?
BB: The client is asking me for it as soon as I can have it. Can you help me generation the data?
BB: I didn’t receive a response from you. Are you able to help me with it? When can you have it?
Millennial: Working on it.
And the conversation went on, eventually with both individuals being frustrated by the impression left in the conversation by the other.
What neither of them tried to do was to understand their origination of need conversation.
Baby boomers grew up with words allowed you much time (and expectation) to have dialogue and conversation about a need in detail. They also grew up in hierarchy worlds when theirs was a clear chain of command. And if you were lower on the chain, your respect via verbal and adherence was expected.
Millennials look at texting as an ongoing conversation, with the perspective of “I will chat with you as the need arises. If I have a question – I will text or message you.” But there is no need to confirm or go into discourse. Because if they have a question, either to you or anyone in their social network for that matter, they are just a text away.
But not understanding this, the Millennial gets frustrated with the Baby Boomer of having too much discussion – and feeling under pressure to be formal and perfect in conversation. And the Baby Boomer is frustrated because they are used to closure. They want to know that expectations have been communicated, agreed upon and delivered.
Today, each generation needs to understand how the other generation grew up to develop generational empathy. We are becoming more different with every generation. We can either frustrate each other – or learn to “interpret” the various generations that work around us.