Talking to your generations

Text a World War II veteran, and you may not get a response. And children of the Reagan era seldom check their snail-mail boxes. So many generations, so many ways to communicate. The trick is to find the right one.

Washington Business Journal – by Jennifer Nycz-Conner Staff Reporter

Shira Harrington, senior recruiting consultant for Positions Inc. in D.C. and an expert on different generations in the workplace, uses this story to open presentations:

A human resources colleague was playing intergenerational networking matchmaker during a conference, trying to get a “millennial” to meet a “veteran” with the help of a “baby boomer.” To set the date and time, she sent the millennial a text message, wrote the baby boomer an e-mail and picked up the phone to call the veteran. The message was the same, but the right delivery mechanisms helped ensure it was properly received.

Welcome to Intergenerational Networking 101. Adding Generation Xers to the groups in Harrington’s story, there are now four very generations collaborating in the workplace.

Each one communicates — and likes to be communicated to — in different ways, time frames and styles. By knowing what makes each generation’s communication wheels spin, you can improve the chances for a positive professional connection with someone half — or twice — your age.

Generational differences

Jennifer Bristow has experienced generational networking challenges firsthand. The 30-year-old regional client relations manager in D.C. for Haworth Inc., an office furniture and interior company, remembers walking into a networking event and being met with silence.

“Not a soul would talk to me because of my age, and the fact I had not done business with them for 10, 15 or 20-plus years,” she recalls.

Bristow raised that point at a D.C. Chamber of Commerce networking seminar run by Terry Nicholetti, founder of GetWorking Networking, a public speaking and consulting group in D.C. Nicholetti, a former Washington Business Journal employee, has given countless presentations to help people better manage those initial intimidating moments of business contact, be it cocktail party or cold call.

Bristow’s experience was a new one for Nicholetti, 63. “What surprised me was that I hadn’t thought of it — that there were generational differences of how people approach the whole idea of networking,” Nicholetti says. “I knew there were cultural differences, but I just hadn’t thought there were generational differences.”

The secret to overcoming those generational differences is to understand them.

Take millennials, for example. These workers, born roughly between 1982 and 2002 (experts vary on exact years), have been nurtured by “helicopter parents” who told them they could do and be anything, what Harrington refers to as the “American Idol syndrome.”

Millennials live for teamwork and don’t understand the corporate ladder that their parents and older relatives talked about climbing. Instead of dog-eat-dog, they are more about dog-helps-dog-so-the-whole-pack-wins.

Yet this sunny attitude can be off-putting to some people in earlier generations.

Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, had to pay plenty of dues and fight to climb a strict, structured corporate ladder, one that does not exist anymore in a lot of businesses. The newer generations don’t know or adhere to their rules.

Many young professionals don’t even show up for the cocktail conversations that are part of networking, says Misti Burmeister, the 30-year-old founder of Fairfax-based leadership development consulting group Inspirion Inc. and author of “From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations.”

“When they do, they have no fear of walking right up to the CEO or highest ranking person and creating conversations,” she says. “When seasoned professionals witness this kind of behavior, many take offense.”

Younger workers are more open in their networks. After meeting people at social events, many quickly offer to “friend” them on social networking sites like Face­book or LinkedIn. Older colleagues may be caught off guard by the easy use of the word “friend,” especially as a verb.

To earlier generations, a friend is someone who is more than a new acquaintance. But as millennials see it, they are exchanging an electronic business card that just happens to be visible to all who visit their Facebook page.

Burmeister says she has met many boomers who have no interest in exposing their information so publicly.

“In many ways, [boomers] understand there are consequences to sharing personal information — not right or wrong, simply consequences,” Burmeister says. “They have been around long enough to understand the impact of too much sharing.”

Discrepancies

Understanding differences is good. But what happens when one group’s difference is another’s irritation?

***Visit http://washington.bizjournals.com/washington/stories/2008/10/13/smallb1.html?b=1223870400^1714658&page=2 to get the rest of the story

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