HOW TO TALK TO A GEN XER
"Anyone born between the early 1960s and early 1980s is considered part of the Generation X cohort. Sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and Generation Y, they can often seem like the neglected middle child.
"The latest research for the "middle child" generation shows we're doing pretty darn well. We're described as innovators and disruptors who are both resilient and imaginative. Did you know that Gen Xers make up the highest percentage of startup founders at 55%?
"As with any middle child, we've learned to excel in the shadow of our older and younger siblings. Let them take the spotlight, we are happy to live our lives according to our own value system and definition of success."
As a group, each American generation experiences the world in a way that's different from 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. Not everyone is going to fit these stereotypes, but they are typical patterns and if you are aware of them you can learn to bridge the divide. This week we focus on Generation X.
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Generation X is the demographic group following the Baby Boomers and preceding the Millennials. There are no precise dates for when Generation X starts or ends; demographers and researchers typically use birth years ranging from early-to-mid 1960s to the early 1980s. The term "Generation X" acquired its modern definition after the release of Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, a 1991 novel written by Canadian author Douglas Coupland.
As adolescents and young adults, they were dubbed the "MTV Generation," a reference to the music video channel of the same name. They also have the nickname the "Why Me Generation" due to their sometimes-nonchalant attitudes about life and work.
Certain historical events during their coming of age have made profound impressions on them. They were around when the AIDS epidemic struck the country. At first it was a mystery disease and no one seemed to know what was going on. But once it became better understood, it created an awareness that there were sometimes unintended consequences to our lifestyle choices.
Many Gen Xers were also defined in large measure by the Challenger explosion. Up until that time there was a sense, similar to the era of the Titanic disaster many decades earlier, that our machines were invincible and we were smart enough to always make them work. But with the Challenger tragedy there was a sharp setback in that way of thinking. It shocked the nation, particularly those who were young and impressionable at that time.
In a similar way, the major stock market crash in 1987 caused a sharp pull-back from a hyper-confident rah-rah mentality about finances and economic progress. It could be a reason that, as a group, Gen Xers tend to be financially cautious and they tend to save more than their parents or the next generation after them.
This was the generation that also saw the fall of the Berlin wall. Seniors and Baby Boomers took it as a given that we would always have these two opposing blocs, but the Gen Xers saw the Soviet bloc fall apart, leaving the United States as the only superpower. Gen Xers also witnessed the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the U.S. and a united set of allies pushed them out in an impressive display of military force.
Gen Xers were children during a time of reduced adult supervision compared to previous generations, a result of increasing divorce rates, increasing maternal participation in the workforce, and limited availability of childcare options outside the home. They are often known as the "Latchkey Generation" because in many cases both parents were working and they were expected to tend to themselves. The television was often the babysitter. Many Gen Xers display an independent streak based on their common experience of coming home and being responsible for themselves for large chunks of the day. They tend to be more free agents than team players.
Many saw their parents sacrifice personal and family priorities for their jobs, and as a result, their attitudes about work is that they work to live, rather than live to work. They are more controlling of their own personal time and they want their jobs to allow for an appropriate work/life balance. For them money is very often a means to an end.
So how can we use this understanding to communicate more effectively with Gen Xers?
Writer Jean Sheid aptly described the imperative of recognizing generational differences in communication styles:
Communicating to people of all age groups is now a tool to master especially when you consider the four basic groups; Traditionalist, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and the Millennials, also known as Gen Y.
There's a difference between, "Sir I made a mistake," "Totally my fault," "My bad," and "Didn't you read my Tweet?" If you don't understand how to communicate with all ages, you'll find yourself lost - and fast.
Each of these age groups, though some of us find ourselves in more than one group, are markedly different including how they communicate with you and the world around them. Instead of attempting to communicate your way or the highway, consider how the communication styles of different generations can be used to create a better environment all around.
In applying these principles to Gen Xers, it's important to understand that they aren't afraid of technology and most of them love new gadgets, even if it takes them a little longer than a Millennial to understand how it all works. They know and understand technology and want to use it. In fact, this was the first generation that is very media savvy. 82% of them expect you to communicate through media.
Email is for many Gen Xers their preferred method of messaging. Communication is often short and to the point. They talk more in sound bites; long drawn-out conversations wouldn't be their strong suit. They demand individuality and they like multi-tasking.
Gen Xers like a straightforward approach. They strive for feedback and offer feedback in return. They are likely to tell you where they're coming from. They like managing their own time and solving their own problems. Remember, these are the latchkey kids; they very often travel alone and communicate that way as well.
A great phrase to communicate with them might be: "Tell me more about that." They want their opinions to be known. They want a sense of being honored. This is the generation that is always going to have something important to say.
Gen Xers like to be kept in the loop. If not kept informed, they can be offended and feel left out. Each of their days will include communication time with family or friends to ensure they are handling the work/life balance they desire.
Gen Xers may have lots of career interests and paths. Gen Xers often tend to think in "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence" mode, showing less allegiance to existing groups to which they belong and less respect for rigid hierarchal structures. If they don't like something, they are likely to let you know.
Next week: Generational Communication Styles - Part 4: The Millennial Generation