GENERATIONAL COMMUNICATION STYLES
Part 1: The World War II Generation
"The Greatest Generation came through some stuff that we can't even imagine - the Depression, World War II - and all they wanted after that was a breather and a calm and a quiet life. Instead they get us."
P. J. O'Rourke
As a group, each American generation experiences the world in a different way than every other generation. Each generation grows up in a period of history that molds them and affects how they see the world. As a result, each generation views life differently and learns differently. Each has different styles in communicating and different expectations of how they want to be treated. When we understand these generational perspectives and generational communication styles, we can converse more effectively with each other.
This article is about how to improve communications with what I call "The World War II Generation," those who lived through the Depression and World War II. Tom Brokaw defined them as "The Greatest Generation." In future articles I will look at Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials.
The World War II Generation tends to be traditional in their approach. They were shaped by major world events as they were coming of age. It was an astounding thing to the older members of this group when Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean: "now we have escaped the bonds of earth."
This generation lived through hard times. The older ones were familiar with the crash of Wall Street in 1929. Those who didn't experience it personally lived through the Great Depression that followed. Their Depression experiences shaped the way they feel about money. For them money is to be used wisely and cautiously. "You put it away, you save for a rainy day, you pay cash. You realize that it could be in short supply, so you are careful with every penny."
The attack on Pearl Harbor was in many cases the key defining moment of their formative years. It happened as most of them were in their teenage or early adult years, so they confronted all the experiences of World War II: the fear, the uncertainty, rationing, going off to war, and perhaps seeing their fathers and brothers called to serve. They are loyal and patriotic; they deeply believe in our country. The war they fought was a war between good and evil, between right and wrong. There were no ambiguities in their world.
Because they were strongly attached to the military, and because in that time most everybody was strongly aligned with their church, they tend to have a great sense of veneration for authority. They took orders from those in charge, and were comfortable giving orders when they were in charge.
So how can we use this understanding to communicate more effectively with the World War II generation?
When it comes to communication styles, this crowd tends to be more comfortable with formal, written communication and with face to face dialogue. Communication via modern technology is an alien, unnatural experience for most of them.
They expect to be treated with respect because that was how they treated their elders. They come to trust you only as you earn their trust. They tend to be less sharing of their feelings, particularly men. Many personify the strong, silent, John Wayne type.
They also feel that it's important to pay your dues, that the young whippersnappers need to wait their turn. They believe your word is your bond and they don't want you to waste their time. If there is a phrase that encapsulates how you might want to address them, it is: "We respect your experience. We honor what you've done."
As they age, they strive to maintain their independence and they work at determining what will be their legacy - what mark they will leave on the world. Any communication with them should reinforce their sense of self-determination and should help them recognize what a difference they have made, both individually and as a group. It will serve us well to remember who they are and what they've accomplished.
Next week: Generational Communication Styles - Part 2: The Baby Boomer Generation