How Gen Y and Gen X use technology (or don't) to communicate

Gen X and Gen Y communicate differently — and I’ve got the awkward situation to prove it.

Let me explain: I (Gen Y) work out of two offices – first half of the week at an office downtown (Chicago), and the other half at an office north of downtown. Occasionally it gets mixed up a bit and I work different days at different offices, and because of it, I’ve had this ongoing fear that I would go to the wrong office on the wrong day.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/And one day, my fear came true and I realized it one train stop too far.

I debated about how I should let my boss (Gen X) know:

  • Trains are dead quiet in the morning, especially Monday mornings as everyone is still half asleep. I was already embarrassed enough calling my boss and letting him know I made a mistake, and if I called, I’d also feel humiliated by the other the other 40 people on the train listening in. Not a good way to start off the week.
  • I’m not the best with confrontation — if I text, I can let him know I screwed up and apologize behind the comfort of a text.

I ended up sending him a text.

What’d my boss do? Being from Gen X, he called me back.

But it made me think – though I learned a couple lessons, I realized how different each generation communicates. We live in a time where Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y are all part of the workforce. It’s so important to understand each other’s communication styles and what technology medium works best with one another.

I put together a little analysis together of Gen X and Gen Y technology communication patterns and its pros and cons to help your team work more cohesively.

Gen Y: We prefer text-based communication. This includes instant messaging, texting, and email. We also embrace Skyping, and collaborative work.

We’re the generation that embraces using multiple technology media to communicate with our colleagues at work using mostly text-based communication. This includes texting, instant messaging (like GChat or AIM) and emailing. Many times we avoid using the phone and prefer to communicate via email.

Although many of us grew up using landlines to call friends, cell phones became commonplace for many of us in high school and college. Texting has become one of the dominant forms of communication with friends and colleagues along with social media and instant messaging. We don’t talk on the phone like we used to.

These forms of text-based communication give us instant gratification of getting responses right away, lessens the risk for confrontation, and gives us the ability to think before we respond (versus having to give a response to a question right away on a phone call).

This has translated into how technology plays a role in the way we communication at work. Gen Ys find that text-based communication is easier to as it’s less confrontational than talking on the phone or face-to-face.

Pros:

  • We’re constantly connected in communication through this style and through using multiple technological media. It allows for more collaboration.
  • Faster, more immediate responses and the ability to think before we press “send.”

Cons:

  • Not everyone embraces the technology communication styles we use, and so our practices don’t always work well when communication with colleagues of different generations.
  • Meanings can get lost in text-based communication, and you don’t get the non-verbal cues you get on the phone or face-to-face.

Gen X: Prefers to communicate by phone vs. email. They are open to, but do not always embrace, IMing, texting and Skyping.

Many Gen Xers started working before the Internet boom. Email wasn’t around just yet, or they started working shortly after it was around. They remember how the office ran communications through inter-office envelopes, people sent memos to make announcements, and some Gen Xers remember using telex, and everyone knew the company fax number by heart.

Gen X prefers to pick up the phone and talk about something than go back and forth in an email discussing it. And if they can’t meet with someone face-to-face, phone is the next most powerful thing. They want the non-verbal communication that’s missing from text-based communications.

Pros:

  • Phone calls can be better communication when discussing details. It’s a more personal way of doing business.
  • You pick up on non-verbal cues that you can’t in text-base communications. It’s a better ‘trusted’ form of communication.

Cons:

  • Phone calls can’t be documented and referred back to for information/data like email and text-based communications
  • Not always easy to get a hold of someone via phone to communicate. Waiting for a phone call back is not as immediate as an instant message or email response often times.

What did I learn from this lesson? Remember my audience before thinking or speaking … and pay closer attention to my train stops.







Devan Perine

Devan Perine works with small business owners on their marketing and multimedia efforts. She's passionate about helping businesses build their presence online, and giving Gen Y a voice in the workplace. When she's not working, she loves to make a mess in the kitchen, and play with her band around Chicago. She loves to chat! Give her a shout on Google+, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Comments

  1. I disagree. I’m a Gen Xer and I along with my fellow gen x friends prefer texting and email to talking on a phone.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Bob! These are common traits found among generations, though not all apply to every person. For example, I don’t associate with many characteristics that people give Gen Ys, though some do apply to me. (as exampled in this article 🙂 ) And many times these communication norms vary by organization and the community of people you work with.

  2. I disagree. I’m a Gen Xer and I along with my fellow gen x friends prefer texting and email to talking on a phone.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Bob! These are common traits found among generations, though not all apply to every person. For example, I don’t associate with many characteristics that people give Gen Ys, though some do apply to me. (as exampled in this article 🙂 ) And many times these communication norms vary by organization and the community of people you work with.

  3. Hey Devan, thanks for the great article!
    I’m an X’er, smack in the middle…I agree with you, though the text vs. phonecall preference changes from older X’er to younger X’er…you know what I mean, how the closer someone is to “the line” from Boomer to X or from X to Y, the traits are blurred and must be more general…
    You got me thinking…I never realized the reason Y’s love the texting was to avoid confrontations…Wow! That’s true, I believe most X’ers have no problem with this…Probably because we had to “speak” to communicate everything good or bad, for all of our young lives…
    How will that factor affect Y’s in their future professional lives?

    For the record, I really don’t like texting!…OK for a quick update or note but I really hate it when it becomes a conversation…Just dial my number and we can resolve/discuss it in a short talk!…Now I’m sounding old.
    Thanks again, it’s good to see a Y who’s got it together.
    Clint.

    • Thanks, Clint! 🙂 I really appreciate your kind words and thoughts here. That’s absolutely true about the “blurred lines” with traits for each generation!

      Really great question about how Gen Ys styles of communication will affect us in our professional lives — I think that as we start to take over majority of the workplace as Boomers retire out and Gen X take their place, I really do see the workplace taking on these communication “norms.” I think that this faster form of communication (text-based communication), decisions and processes will be streamlined – especially with new technology & cloud-based software helping people work more cohesively and collaboratively in this way.
      I do say this with caution, as we all know that there can be problems when communicating primarily through email for decision-making, for example. But because of that risk, it’ll force companies to improve their business & communication processes — especially as more of the workplace takes on remote workers and allows employees to telecommute and face-to-face communication will be less and less, text-based communication will dominate internal communication.

      As for the texting preferences – you and Brad would get along just great! 🙂

      Devan

  4. Hey Devan, thanks for the great article!
    I’m an X’er, smack in the middle…I agree with you, though the text vs. phonecall preference changes from older X’er to younger X’er…you know what I mean, how the closer someone is to “the line” from Boomer to X or from X to Y, the traits are blurred and must be more general…
    You got me thinking…I never realized the reason Y’s love the texting was to avoid confrontations…Wow! That’s true, I believe most X’ers have no problem with this…Probably because we had to “speak” to communicate everything good or bad, for all of our young lives…
    How will that factor affect Y’s in their future professional lives?

    For the record, I really don’t like texting!…OK for a quick update or note but I really hate it when it becomes a conversation…Just dial my number and we can resolve/discuss it in a short talk!…Now I’m sounding old.
    Thanks again, it’s good to see a Y who’s got it together.
    Clint.

    • Thanks, Clint! 🙂 I really appreciate your kind words and thoughts here. That’s absolutely true about the “blurred lines” with traits for each generation!

      Really great question about how Gen Ys styles of communication will affect us in our professional lives — I think that as we start to take over majority of the workplace as Boomers retire out and Gen X take their place, I really do see the workplace taking on these communication “norms.” I think that this faster form of communication (text-based communication), decisions and processes will be streamlined – especially with new technology & cloud-based software helping people work more cohesively and collaboratively in this way.
      I do say this with caution, as we all know that there can be problems when communicating primarily through email for decision-making, for example. But because of that risk, it’ll force companies to improve their business & communication processes — especially as more of the workplace takes on remote workers and allows employees to telecommute and face-to-face communication will be less and less, text-based communication will dominate internal communication.

      As for the texting preferences – you and Brad would get along just great! 🙂

      Devan

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