Generational Gaps: Breaking Down Communication Barriers
All professionals need to be aware of the impact of generational gaps in business email communication and how the resulting problems can be prevented. People from different generations can differ in various ways including perspectives, perceptions, and personalities. These differences are so entrenched that building relationships with emails between generations might be a challenge. But it is very much possible with some awareness and precautions.
Generational gaps are just as important in business email communication as cultural and geographical differences. This is especially true in the modern workplace which has changed drastically in the last few years. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employed people older than 55 years has risen in recent years. This isn’t just an American trend, though. As the global population becomes older, the average employee age is going up all over the world. At the same time, the younger generation is starting to join the workforce. Individuals in each generation have had political, social, economic, and technological experiences that are completely unique to them. The direct result is that people from these different generations communicate differently. Naturally, this affects your professionalism in email communication.
The limitations of text-based communication channels such as emails amplify the interpersonal difficulties, miscommunications, and conflicts that may be caused by these generational differences. But there are ways through which these generational differences can be bridged in email communication. In this lecture, you will learn about these ways and how to implement them.
Use Multiple Media Within Email
Text is subjective. Even without generational gaps, sentences can be interpreted in multiple ways. This is particularly true in English. Here are a few examples of sentences that are structurally simple, but each of them has two different meanings depending on your perspective:
- The old man hit the boy with an umbrella.Was the boy holding the umbrella or was he hit by one?
- The man gave his dog food. Was he fed dog food or was his dog fed food?
- Press that button on the right.Is the button located on the right side or are you supposed to press the right side of the button?
- Check the dropdown menu in the middle.Is the dropdown menu in the middle or are you supposed to check it’s middle options?
- Fill the form at the bottom.Is the form at the bottom or do you need to fill the bottom part of the form?
Do you see how even simple sentences can be pretty confusing and result in different interpretations? When varying generational gap differences come into play and the sentences become more complex, it can result in a lot of misinterpretations. The simple solution to this problem is to use more than just text to convey your message. In business email communication, visuals can be instrumental in avoiding miscommunication and resulting conflicts. This is particularly true for screenshots, gifs, and even videos showing elaborate procedures. Adding visual examples to your email will support your message and help the receiver understand what you are trying to say.
Utilize Generic Emailing Practices
If you’re not close with the recipient, it’s best to keep your tone neutral. Avoid jokes, sarcasm, smileys and gifs as these can be counterproductive when used too much and with people who you’ve not formed an understanding with already. Some people might view them as too casual and inappropriate for business communication.
Another great example of how personality in emails can cause problems due to generational gaps are ellipses (…) Older generations use ellipses as a way to show that they’ve run out of things to say in a very neutral and non-judgmental manner. For example “This sounds like a great idea…” In contrast, younger generations that have grown up with clear character restrictions use ellipses as a message. This demonstrates how generational gaps can interpret punctuation in different ways.
For example, ellipses can be interpreted as a passive-aggressive message by some millennials. The same sentence “That sounds like a great idea …” with an ellipse at the end could mean that the sender is not genuinely supportive of the idea… It’s very subtle, but punctuation can have a big impact on your relationships with your colleagues, so you need to be aware of how you use it when communicating across various generations…..
Research Behind Generational Gaps
Some generational differences are even backed by a few surveys. Here’s an interesting study conducted by Grammarly. Grammarly found that employees under the age of 35 were 50 percent more likely to be told that they’re too informal by older generations. This might mean that the younger generation is less formal in email communication. Another similar finding was that eighty-eight percent of the people below 35 years of age thought that using exclamations in an email is okay while only 30 percent of people above 65 years of age agreed. Do you see how punctuation plays an important role in your daily communication? Whether it is ellipses, exclamations, or other writing behavior, it is better to follow generic emailing practices and remove all generation-specific traits from your email message to minimize miscommunication between generations.
Bridging Generational Gaps: Know When to Clarify
Even if you take precautions such as using multiple media within an email and keeping things as generic as possible, it is still possible for generational gaps to cause miscommunication. Generational differences are essentially gaps in perspectives, perceptions, and personalities which cannot be bridged flawlessly through words alone. This is why it is better to be aware that they can come up and be prepared in advance. The simplest way of dealing with miscommunication caused by generational gaps is to be open about seeking and giving clarifications. These types of miscommunications are usually subtle as is evident with ellipses, exclamations, and graphics. A simple clarification can fix the problem and help you maintain healthy relationships with your colleagues.
Generational diversity in the workplace has gradually increased in the last few years. In emails, the limitations of textual communication can get augmented by generational gaps. The best way to deal with these types of miscommunication is to use multiple media within emails, keep the tone generic, and be open to seeking and giving clarifications.
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