How Generation X & Y can communicate more effectively

How Generation X & Y can communicate more effectively

How we communicate is critical to our success at work. Of course, we each have our communication strengths and quirks but there are, however, some common differences between Generation X and Y.

By Jenny Williams

How we communicate is critical to our success at work. Of course, we each have our communication strengths and quirks but there are, however, some common differences between Generation X and Y. When understood, they can enable us to flex our style to become even more effective.

There are two factors, which are driving the difference in communication styles;

1. The world they grew up in.

“If you want to know how a man thinks, imagine the world when they were young,” Napoleon once said. The child-centric parenting and education system, which Gen Y experienced, is in stark contrast to Gen X’s childhood, which is often referred to as the “latchkey generation.”

This shaped Gen Y’s communication preference. From the earliest age, they were encouraged to have a voice and opinions. They were taught to be confident that these would be listened to. So, when they arrive in the workplace, they understandably expect the same.

In contrast, Gen X learnt from their parents and early work careers that there is a time and a place for communication. And this time and place is influenced by the hierarchy around them. They are then surprised when their Gen Y colleagues immediately start sharing their thoughts, challenging recieved opinion and expecting time with their managers for those kinds of conversation.

2. The impact of the internet on them.

Gen Y are, of course, digital natives who have a greater preference for frequent digital communication. One manager told me about her frustration at receiving long emails late at night which contained “bad news” about customers. She wanted to be phoned and ideally in the morning.

Practically, given these differences, what can each generation do to finesse their communication style to have even greater impact on the other?

For Generation X, it can be helpful to consider:

Communication needs to be two-way and inclusive. Gen Y assume if you are communicating with them that you are inviting a response. As a result:

Don’t tell, involve.

Don’t dictate, explain.

Give them opportunities to air their views: regular one-to-one’s and access to senior management.

Train them to make proposals to you and share what you need to make a decision.

Give context and clarification. Gen Y need to understand the 'why' to help them take action.

Communicate frequently, in short bursts.

Be honest, they distrust corporations. If you are restricting something explain why.

Be prepared to have challenging conversations; they tend to bring things up that management might prefer them not to.

For Generation Y, it can be helpful to consider;

If you will have greater impact if you sometimes pause the communication stream. Consider:


Method of communication.

Their communication preference e.g. if they are evidence based in their approach, then do the same to have greater impact.

Communication needs to be two way.

Step into their shoes and seek to understand their point of view.

Understand the context and what it means for your stakeholders' perspective as well as your own.

Talking is often preferable to digital communication.

Don’t over rely on email and text.

Never send an email which will illicit an emotional reaction.

The length of an email should fit on one screen, no scrolling required.

Both generations’ communication preferences have their merits as well as their downfalls. And both generations need to learn to flex to have greater impact and build more effective working partnerships.

Jenny Williams is an ICF accredited Coach, NLP Master Practitioner and Enneagram Practitioner; specialising in the marketing, creative and media industries. Check out her website and follow her on Twitter.


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