Whether you’re the founder or inheritor of your family’s business, you know the challenges involved with communicating across multiple generations of family members. Even if all parties generally get along, messages can get lost in translation or interpreted improperly often. Unfortunately, family enterprises rely on clear communication and the alignment of goals amongst generations.
The good news is, stress surrounding communication styles is avoidable, if you and your family members take the time to learn each other’s tendencies and preferences.
Communication Style by Generation
A major influence on the way you communicate is how you were raised and the technology you had access to during your formative years. Here’s a general idea of how people tend to communicate based on their generation:
Baby Boomers (people between 58 and 76 years old): This generation tends to favor direct communication with a more formal tone. They don’t typically use flowery language or try to “soften the blow” when speaking. Baby Boomers are often more comfortable speaking face-to-face, over the phone, or in an email.
Generation X (people between 42 and 57 years old): While the closest in age to Baby Boomers, members of Generation X tend to swing their communication preferences towards the more informal side. They like using technology to their advantage, preferring to communicate through email, phone, text or social media (primarily Facebook). They do still value professional etiquette, but are perhaps not as focused on formalities as Baby Boomers.
Millennials (people between 27 and 41 years old): Millennials value having authentic conversations in a fast and efficient manner. Because of this, they’ll opt for texting, instant messaging, email, and social media (such as Instagram). They prefer to communicate through digital mediums, rather than talking face-to-face or over the phone.
Generation Z (people between 12 and 26 years old): Like millennials, those in Generation Z like to keep communication authentic and transparent. They may rely heavily on digital communication methods video calling, but they also tend to value face-to-face communication more than millennials or Generation X.
Replace Assumptions with Actual Answers
The traits shared above can be used as a good starting point when looking to improve multigenerational communication. But keep in mind that these are generalizations, not absolute truths.
In other words, they can help you better understand where an individual is coming from, but every person in your family is unique and may not always fit the mold. Be flexible, observant and open to how another person prefers to communicate or receive communication — as you may find it goes against their generational “norms.”
For example, you might see a child or grandchild constantly on their phone and assume they never want to speak face-to-face. But, they actually appreciate having formal or business-focused communications in person. If you didn’t ask or observe this behavior, it’d be easy to assume that wasn’t the case.
Share and Respect Preferred Communication Styles
It may sound silly, but you need to communicate about your communication. This can be done both one-on-one with other family members or as a group.
Why is this important?
If you don’t let others know how you prefer to communicate, they’ll default to their own preferred method (texting, calling, emailing, etc.). In some cases, this can create frustration and tension between parties. You may be frustrated because you’re receiving messages in a way that’s not conducive to your working style. As a result, you may not answer in a timely manner or could be replying in a way that comes across agitated or annoying. Especially with text-based communications, it can be hard to interpret tone or intent.
Once you know what another person’s communication style is, make sure you’re using it consistently. If they call you and leave a voicemail, for example, call them back — even if it’s not your own preferred style of communicating.
Treat the Next Generation as Future Leaders
Creating and operating a family enterprise means you have the incredible opportunity to watch the next generation join and lead the family business.
But when you changed their diapers or watched them grow up, it can be hard to put those images out of your head. You might see them as the lovable toddler or ambitious high school kid, rather than a grown adult preparing to take a leadership role in the company.
Try to communicate with your younger family members with respect for the adults they’ve become, even if you still think of them as young kids. It might be helpful to consider how you’d talk to any other employee or manager in your company — is it the same way, or are you changing the way you speak when it is an actual family member?
Make sure you’re giving your family members the same grace, patience, and opportunities to prove their worth as you’d give anyone else.
Finding Alignment Within Your Family Enterprise
Knowing how different generations communicate is key to improving the internal operations of your family enterprise and your family. Once communication is on track, you and your family members can better align on the long-term visions and goals for the business and the family.
At WillKate, we specialize in helping family enterprises not only for today, but for the future generations as well to thrive and have meaningful purposes. If you have a desire to build greater communication amongst family members in the business, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’d be happy to meet you and discuss your opportunities.