Organizations waste a lot of money on errors - errors that are preventable. In 2019, Dynamic Signal reported that approximately $37 billion per year is attributed to errors that are due to things as simple as a failure of employees to communicate with each other. There are five generations of people in the workplace. Each generation has their own way of communicating. This can contribute to the challenges they have relating to each other. Effective communication across generations and cultures matters to employees and employers.
I am at a unique place in my career right now because the people who are coming into the corporation right now, our co-ops, our interns, our new associates, they all are about 25 years younger than me. And our more mature associates are about 20 to 25 years older than me. So, I have had to learn how to, and focus a whole lot on, how to effectively communicate across generations and cultures.
Effective communication, which is one of our human performance tools, is like steel. It is strong, but it also must be a little malleable.
Effective communication is safe. It should be free of blame and psychologically safe.
Trust is another component of effective communication. That trust increases when the message is delivered with empathy and by an experienced individual.
Effective communication also involves listening, active listening, not listening to respond, but listening to understand.
Benefits of Effective Communication
Effective communication helps to increase employee productivity and employee engagement and reduce conflict on teams.
There are approximately seven generations of people who are alive in the world today. According to a recent US Census, that's about eight billion people or four people born every second. Five of those generations are in our workforce. Each of them has distinct communication preferences.
Baby boomers are beginning to transition out of the workforce. They prefer to communicate in more concrete ways, such as via email or in person. On the other end of the spectrum, Gen Z, or people born from 1998 - 2010, are now entering the workforce. Gen Z considers FaceTime is in-person communication. But whether you are a baby boomer, part of Gen Z, or somewhere in between, your culture and the way that you communicate are shaped by those life-defining events which occurred the year you were born and through your formative years.
Culture is comprised of a lot of things. It Is those customary beliefs you share with people who live in the same region. It is the cohort of people who were born in the same year, the people you work with, the people you go to school with, and the people you with work. It is your values, goals, and just the way you do things.
One of the most important things about culture is making sure that you are taking that knowledge and sharing it. It is essential to survival that culture is passed on to future generations.
To add some visual interest to a presentation I recently gave, I created a word search and populated it with words that are unique, not just to my culture, but to a culture in a little town outside of Atlanta. It is a suburb called Clarkston. Clarkston’s one square mile is home to approximately 14,750 residents who speak over 60 different languages! Clarkson is known as the most diverse mile in the country. It is also known as the Ellis Island of the South.
My Father and Grandmother
When my father was three years old, his father died. My grandmother, who was about 30 years old at that time, had seven young children. She did not speak any English and had never had a job. She made the decision to give my father and his younger sister up for adoption.
50 years later, my dad was reunited with his mother. She still spoke no English. After being adopted by a family who exclusively spoke English, my dad no longer spoke any French and was not able to communicate with her.
So, what they did on that day, 50 years later when they reconnected? They sat there. And they sat there for hours, just looking at each other and holding hands.
In that moment, I realized that the most important, the most effective part of actually communicating with people, is to be present.
This article is taken from the session presented by LaRhonda Julien at the 2022 Annual Conference of the Community of Human and Organizational Learning (CHOLearning).
LaRhonda Julien is Inspection Performance Specialist for the Construction Inspection department at Georgia Transmission Corporation – a not-for-profit utility company that connects power plants to local electric member cooperatives by planning, building, and maintaining the high-voltage transmission lines and power grid infrastructure throughout Georgia. Her major duties involve human and organization performance improvement, overseeing business continuity and change management processes, and knowledge transfer, along with coordinating capital construction projects and environmental protection activities. She chairs the company’s Human Performance Strategic Team.
LaRhonda earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial-Organizational Psychology with a minor in Business Management from the University of Phoenix. She received a Lean Six Sigma green belt from the University of Georgia. She has professional memberships with the American Psychological Association (APA), APA’s Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE), IEEE’s Power and Energy Society, the International Erosion Control Association, the Women’s International Network of Utility Professionals, and the Cobb Association of REALTORS. She also serves as a member of the North American Transmission Forum’s Human Performance Core Team. She is an inducted member of the National Society of Leadership Success.
LaRhonda lives in the suburbs of Atlanta. She is an avid runner and an ambassador for the Atlanta Track Club.