Communications

How to Bridge the Communications Gender Gap -- From Both Sides

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When it comes down to it, age sometimes matters. People of different generations can have varying preferences and perspectives on many aspects of life. This can be particularly pronounced when it comes to the way they communicate

And I’m not talking about how an 18-year-old IT whiz chats as opposed to a tech-illiterate centenarian. Even when comparing equally tech-savvy millennials and baby boomers, you’ll find differences in the way they communicate and this can lead to a disconnect, particularly in the workplace.

Throughout my career I’ve worked with both younger and older colleagues and noticed some particularly thorny areas for people in both age groups in communications.

I’ve narrowed these down to a few key tips for newcomers and veterans in the work world. Though these tips certainly do not apply to every person in either age group, it’s helpful to at least identify potential gaps.

Related: How to Manage Generational Dynamics 

Newbies.

Learn your acronyms ASAP. Almost every industry comes with a new set of terms and abbreviations. Take note of the "vocab" your new colleagues frequently use and in what circumstances. If they use abbreviations internally but never with clients, follow their lead. Also, actively learn them.

For example, COB (close of business), EOD (end of day), and EOB (end of business) mean the same time to some and very distinct times to others. That’s why, in addition to finding online resources like ALTA’s great roundup of common business abbreviations, never be afraid to ask colleagues for clarification.

Don’t be afraid to follow up. A common error I’ve seen newbies make is assuming silence means something it does not. It's completely OK to follow up even if you’ve emailed a request to your colleague, boss or client if there's no response. Wait an appropriate amount of time (depending on the urgency, this fluctuates) and learn from how others handle follow-up notes to craft your own.

According to Radicati’s Email Statistics Report, professionals across industries receive more than 80 business emails a day on average. For people in many jobs, that number is much higher. Emails often become lost in the shuffle often and it’s better to send a polite follow-up instead of making assumptions.

Choose communication tools wisely. As more millennials enter the workforce, it has become increasingly acceptable to text, tweet and even use chat apps with others in the professional world. But that doesn’t mean you should necessarily start texting your superiors or clients on your first day.

Take cues from others about what’s appropriate. If your boss texts you a question from the road, it’s certainly appropriate to text back. And should you need to get in touch with a client immediately and have no other choice, at least qualify it with an “apologies for texting but wanted to get you this info before your meeting ends.” And don’t forget to use correct grammar! Ultimately, just be thoughtful and professional and ask your colleagues if you’re ever unsure.

Related: Why Being 50 (or Older) Is Just Right for Entrepreneurship.

Workplace vets.

It’s important for the veterans in the office to familiarize themselves with the latest lingo. It’s always an advantage to stay current with newer acronyms, such as LMK (let me know), JIC (just in case) and even SMH (shaking my head).

Acronyms (and language in general) are always evolving. New terms will inevitably pop up in emails and it’s always better to be in the know. Don’t know where to do your research? Urban Dictionary can be helpful (but risky) and roundups pop up every so often like this recent Huffington Post piece.

Be open to new communication tools. Email is here to stay, and obviously the conference call is an old standby, but supplementary tools continue to emerge. If someone in the office suggests using a Biba video call for a live presentation or the Voxer walkie-talkie app for easy contact during a conference, don’t immediately balk.

Give them the old college try and stay open to embracing new modes of contact. Not only can new tools provide convenience, but they can also help you stay technologically agile.

Learn to be comfortable with casual methods. Just as younger professionals shouldn’t assume texting or chatting is always appropriate, older employees must be prepared to adapt when colleagues or clients start using more casual tools.

If you’re in a management position, perhaps set boundaries with your team about when texting is OK. The collective jury is still out on texting in business communication. Ultimately, it depends on the situation. But these new forms of communication are here to stay and undoubtedly become increasingly ubiquitous in everyday personal and professional life.

For both “generations” in today’s professional world, the key is to share knowledge with others. Be open to both tradition and novelty. Be agile and never stop learning. As long as the key tenets of professionalism, respect and maturity remain, professionals will continue to adapt to the ever-changing world of communication. At least, IMHO.

Related: The Problem With Hiring Millennials Is Their Age, Not Their Generation