Generational Miscommunication & The Issue of "Negativity" - A Diversity Issue
This is the third in a series of posts on internal communications and the "dark side" of the organization. (Click here for #1 and here for #2).
I have often wondered why organizations are slow to deal with difficult issues surrounding internal communication. Part of the answer, I think, has to do with generational leadership styles. My working hypothesis is that there is a generational miscommunication between Baby Boomers and Generation Xers, the two generations that now dominate the workplace.
- Baby Boomers are idealistic and deeply team-focused - the members of the team create a unit that looks out for one another. They see any negativity as a threat to the team. They are good at intellectual analysis and love robust debate, but aret uncomfortable with the intangible emotional issues behind them.
- Generation Xers are also idealistic and get things done in teams. But not the way that Boomers do. Because we've seen teams fall apart due to denial and exploitation, we tend to trust individuals in alliance with one another to solve problems.
How about other workplace groups?
- Matures - very senior leaders - have a completely different attitude toward negativity. They are group-oriented like Boomers, but more honest and less defensive. Their attitude, probably because they've seen war, is military: Someone's breached the walls of morale, it's a problem, let's take it out and deal with it, now. They get it on a very deep level and are quietly effective. Like Boomers, they don't like to talk about it.
- Generation Y employees dislike negativity much like Boomers do. There is an uncanny similarity between Generation Y and Boomers in their thinking. They're very positive and forward-thinking and cheerful. They don't shy away from problems, but they believe that simply taking action as a team is the way to fix them. They don't like all the dark sarcastic stuff.
- Generation Z - this would be roughly teenagers and college-age kids - are very similar to Xers. This is the generation of "memes." They are very comfortable with negativity. They turn to their peers to talk about it though. They are also much more open than Generation X. These are the kids who write on their Facebook walls about just about every personal problem imaginable, and to them it's like asking "How's the Weather?" They are also like Generation X in that they are likely to take individual action to solve a pressing problem - regardless of what anybody thinks they can or can't do or what established institutions say.
The good news, looking at all this, is how much energy the different generations bring to the table in terms of getting things done. The potentially bad news is that there is room for miscommunication between them.
If we take a step back from the individual situations that we face in our organizations and look at things from a generational diversity perspective - rather than an interpersonal one - we might find that sometimes what looks like a stubborn issue is really not so bad. The key is to look at things from the perspective of the other person, the other group, and recognize how they are looking at you.