Have you ever had trouble communicating an idea to someone who belongs to a different generation than yourself? Do you feel like you don’t quite understand the motivations of someone from another generation? In the modern workplace, it is not uncommon to have four generations of employees working together. In the veterinary industry, we have constant interaction with not just coworkers of all ages, but clients as well!
We have all experienced communication struggles and barriers. Body language, tone of voice, and use of positive language are commonly written about, but how often do we consider how to communicate with other generations? One of the many keys to communication is understand another’s motivations and perspective. This enables us to tweak both the content and presentation of our message so it is best received by our audience.
While it is important to consider that every individual is different and generalizations can be wrong, understanding what a specific generation values can go a long way in improving interaction. When dealing with clients, it is impossible to know each individual and what makes them “tick” as soon as they walk in the practice’s front door. But understanding generational differences is one of many tools that can help prevent miscommunication.
Traditionalists were generally born between 1925 and 1945. Those that did not personally experience the Great Depression grew up in families that did. They generally place a great value on money, possessions, and time, and are very conscious about wasting any of these. It is important to consider this when interacting with a traditionalist client. Explaining to them the value they are getting for their money is a great route to take. Additionally, your interactions with traditionalists should be more formal. Often times traditionalists equate a lack of formality with a lack of respect and work ethic, and may feel that you are wasting their time if you deal with them too informally.
Traditionalist coworkers are generally “low-maintenance.” They describe relationship to work as “personal sacrifice” (Knoxville News Sentinel). Traditionalists like to come to work, receive assignments, and put forth their effort without much interference. When communicating with traditionalist coworkers at your practice, remember their strong sense of individuality and their pride in their veterinary career, regardless of job position. If they feel you are micromanaging them, they might not be receptive to what you have to say.
Baby Boomers are considered to be those born between 1946 and 1964. Their generation places great emphasis on independence and hard work. Unlike Traditionalists, their relationship to work is one of more control. “Personal gratification” is how many of them describe that relationship (Knoxville). Baby Boomers often feel their career defines them, and they are very goal oriented. Because of their independence, Baby Boomer clients very much appreciate being presented with options with regard to the care of their pets. It gives them a sense of control and pride.
When communicating with Baby Boomer coworkers, remember that they like feeling in control of their work. Offering suggestions is often better received when they are presented as goals to work towards. Also consider that Baby Boomers are frequently competitive. Suggestions or ideas are more often embraced and adhered to when they involve some level of competition.
Generation Xers are commonly considered to be those born between 1965 and 1976. They grew up in a time of conflict and remember one or more tough recessions in their younger years. These recessions have given them the memory of their parents struggling with losing and changing jobs. Because of this, Xers are reluctant to commit to an employer and place a premium on flexibility and a work/life balance. They are very individualistic and often technologically adept. Keep in mind that Xer customers like to be quick and efficient. They are less focused a formalities and explanations in the exam room, and often like to get in and get out of the clinic quickly.
When it comes to Xer coworkers, remember their strong sense of individuality. If a suggestion appears to be micromanaging or “handling” them, they will often tune you out. For Generation Xers, motivating them to change or improve will often have to come from explaining how a change benefits them. Asking them to accept change without specific reasons why usually won’t work.
Generation Y is composed of people born between 1977 and 1998. Generation Y is a technically savvy, achievement oriented, attention craving generation. Communication with this generation often centers on a need to explain “why.” They want to know why they need to do something, how it fits into the big picture, how it impacts them. Generation Y is heavily focused on multitasking and generally has a short attention span. When interacting with these clients, avoid long, detailed explanations unless asked. It is best to keep things short and simple. They also respond heavily to social media marketing, so bringing in new and younger clients often means spreading the word of your practice on Facebook and Twitter. They represent a great marketing opportunity in that they are more willing to spend money than previous generations, if it can be successfully communicated to them how the additional expense benefits them or their pet. It is extremely important to understand how to interact with Generation Y coworkers, considering many of them are still entering the workplace for the first time. They are very team-oriented and often like to function in groups. Additionally, they enjoy being mentored.
While other generations like a hands-off approach, members of Generation Y prefer to be micromanaged (at least initially) and desire for coworkers and superiors to mentor them. They are a more hands-on generation that prefers to learn from doing in a supervised environment.
With the knowledge of these four generational styles that you may come across in your clients and your coworkers at your practice, how will you modify your own behavior to make your communication more effective?