Communication Breakdown: The Great Divide


Gen X.  Baby Boomers.  The Silent Generation.  And Gen Y aka Millennials aka Digital Natives.  Four generations in the workplace.  It’s a topic we’ve all heard about, especially all the data, surveys, and trends.  But what do we do with all that data?  What is it telling us?  What adjustments do we need to make in how we communicate?  Thanks to Building Design + Construction Magazine, I recently had the chance to explore this topic with 50 other A/E/C industry leaders.

A few weeks ago, BD+C Magazine held their annual Under 40 Leadership Summit, this year in the heart of New York City.  As a member of their 2014 class of 40 Under Forty, I was invited to join my fellow recipients, as well as those from previous years, for 3 days of leadership development, architectural tours, and great night life!  We spent an entire morning devoted to the topic of communication between generations.  It started with a presentation by Generational Expert Preston Swincher, who hit us with the demographic, parenting, and technological trends that are causing challenges in today’s workplace.  It finished with 7 team presentations that proposed solutions to what we thought were the main challenges we are facing.

Preston Swincher presents "Connecting to Digital Natives: Leading through Generations"

Preston Swincher presents “Connecting to Digital Natives: Leading through Generations”

After Preston’s presentation, we broke into teams to brainstorm the challenges each of us face in our own offices due to the Generational Divide, agreed upon our top 8-10, and compared them to the other teams to see what were the main issues we’re all facing.

My team deep in thought.

My team deep in thought.

Collecting and sorting the issues into 7 main areas.

Collecting and sorting the issues into 7 main areas.

Each team then selected one of the 7 main topics and had to create a board and make a presentation on the ways you could overcome the issue.

Our team hard at work on our presentation board.

Our team hard at work on our presentation board.

Here are the 7 biggest challenges we came up with, mostly focused on Millennials, and a quick summary of the solutions proposed by each team:

1. Two-Way Communication


  • Set clear expectations, have regular follow-up meetings (Millennials want feedback – often)
  • Have to get buy-in of the mission/vision, they have to take ownership (Millennials are a skeptical bunch – actions speak louder than words, so SHOW them, don’t just TELL them)
  • Share the rewards of success


2. How Do You Attract Talent and Keep It?


  • Identify what you need – what are you missing?
  • Provide opportunities for staff to constantly grow
  • Provide a mentor(s)



3. Lack of Transparency = Lack of Engagement (my team’s topic)


  • Management needs to be open about the direction/vision/mission of the firm as well as the financial health – provide regular updates
  • Provide leadership and professional development – empower the employee! – encourage engagement in the community
  • Mentorship goes both ways – plenty for management to learn from Millennials


4. I Got “IT” (When Ego Gets in the Way)


  • Millennials have a tendency to want to know everything immediately, and think they can do everything immediately
  • Misunderstanding of Expectations (ensure they are clear of their goals and responsibilities)
  • Misunderstanding of perspective (the importance of truly listening)
  • Misunderstanding of Perception (show how their contributions are important and how they fit into the big picture)


5. Aligning Technology Across Generations


  • Utilize reverse mentoring – identify your best coaches and subject matter experts among your Millennials and allow them to teach the other generations


6. Entitlement #YouNeedToEarnIt


  • Millennials are sometimes referred to as the “trophy” generation – other generations say they don’t know what hard work really is or the effort that’s really needed to get “there”
  • Since Millennials are skeptical, use crowdsourcing (something they love) – collect anonymous 360 feedback, SHOW them the data, compare them to their peers
  • Have to build trust between mentor and mentee – SHOW them that every task is a learning opportunity and valuable experience they need to get “there”


7. Leveraging Technology Appropriately (see board)

The board says it all.

The board says it all.


Did you catch a main theme running through all the issues???


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