What generation do you belong to?

ACT Like A Pro Issue 131

What generation do you belong to? Did a word, a feeling, or a stereotype come to mind?

What if I told you it doesn’t matter? Whether you think you’re a Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, or somewhere in between these arbitrary classifications, you can effectively communicate with anyone of any age.

When we box what generation everyone is in, it can make it seem insurmountable to communicate with someone who is a different generation than us.

It’s not true.

There are some constant communication strategies, regardless of what generation you are or are speaking to.

I’m only going to touch on a few here, but my full 10 strategies for communicating across generations in business, laid out in an easy-to-use mini eBook, is now available as a free gift for joining the Ag Lead Short Course waiting list.

You’ll be able to start implementing these strategies with your whole organization, family, and network right away to provide clarity, understanding, and facilitate better communication—no matter what generation you are in or are talking to.

I’m going to reference my newest print book, Who’s Running Your Farm Next?: 5 Steps to Develop and Coach Your Next Generation, a lot in this article. We’re rapidly approaching the one-year bookiversary in August, and I still reference the book all the time!

If you don’t have this great resource, you can pick it up from your favorite book retailer or in digital format.

When we work with people across age ranges, we focus on communicating from different frames of reference. Different generations bring different contexts and strengths to the relationship. We need to acknowledge these unique perspectives across generations and work to build lines of communication and understanding.

A big part of this involves communicating our unique value to others who may have a different frame of reference.

Here are a few practical ways to encourage better communication with others and an appreciation of the value they bring, include:

1. Acknowledge and appreciate differences (but stop stereotyping!)

It can be easy to fall back on generational stereotypes when working across generations, which makes it particularly difficult to correct; pause and make an effort to avoid these limiting biases.

We are all influenced by and products of our time periods: when we were born, raised, became adults, and gained our experiences. These experiences define who we are as individuals and are deeply ingrained in our personalities.

Communicating effectively means accepting differences and respecting those differences in others. I often counsel groups not to begin by trying to change generational attributes. Instead, I suggest working with individuals to identify specifically the value each person adds to the group.

From this foundation, it’s a matter of building respect for that person’s contribution and role as part of the operation, regardless of their generation.

2. Understand value differences

“Because it’s always been done that way” is the type of thinking that doesn’t resonate as a legitimate reason with anyone, and particularly, with people who are new to the business.

While different generations may naturally value and prioritize different things, it’s valuable to have open discussions and explorations about the reasoning behind why things are done a certain way.

It may even lead to everyone agreeing that certain processes might benefit from an update.

Effective communication relies on this dialogue and openness to change. Think of it this way: if someone younger questions you about the why of something and you can’t immediately explain it, it’s probably worth questioning.

3. Be willing to learn

Younger generations need to be patient and willing to learn from experience. It turns out we actually don’t have all the answers just because we turned 21 or graduated from college.

In turn, mature generations must have the willingness to teach rather than tell.

Pairing a more senior, experienced employee with a junior person is the quintessential way to mentor effectively and give everyone a chance to shine.

4. Acknowledge differences with respect and expect respect

Respect for others needs to be a clear expectation, and managers must set up systems to make this happen.

The biggest challenges younger family members have when starting at the farm don’t usually involve working with Dad, Grandpa, or even Mom. It’s more typical they will struggle when working with long-term employees who are often like family, but not related.

Giving Millennials and Gen Z employees leadership roles helps them develop critical management skills. But it is a challenge to do this when an older family member isn’t quite ready to let go. In these cases, the older family member often undermines the younger member’s authority by taking control or changing decisions.

Don’t do this, even if it’s not on purpose.

The best way to avoid this temptation is to create clear reporting structures, which can help prevent a host of avoidable problems. It takes work and vigilance at all levels to ensure that a culture of respect is practiced. Treating others with respect is the best way to establish that culture.

Additionally, if you see older employees dissing a young manager, say something. Stepping in under these circumstances sends a message that disrespect will not be tolerated.

Respect goes both ways, and it is earned both ways, too.

Want to read more about additional ways to foster clear, useful communication across multiple generations? I’m including a free, exclusive eBook, “10 Strategies for Communicating Across Generations” for everyone who signs up for the Ag Lead Short Course waiting list for the next few weeks. It’s a free preview of the great content you’ll get in the Ag Lead Short Course.

What are ways you find to communicate with those with value differences from yourself? Let me know in an email or comments.

ACT Like A Pro Out There!

Don’t forget!
Share your stories of strong women in ag using the hashtag #WomenInAgNow on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

I’ll feature all stories that use #WomenInAgNow (or tag me!) in my Farm Next Facebook group through the end of June.

Send me your stories, and let’s celebrate the women who are in ag right now.