5 Tips for Cultivating Understanding in a Multigenerational World

5 Tips for Cultivating Understanding

Average lifespans have been getting a lot longer over time, meaning that today there are more generations alive simultaneously than ever in history. At the same time, average retirement ages are rising, with more people choosing to remain in the workplace into their 60s and beyond. Depending on the state of the economy, people may choose to continue working even longer.

Add to that the rise of social media and digital communication, where people from all walks of life interact. The result is a society where people find themselves in a melting pot of generations. This can get confusing when individuals have diverging expectations about how to interact clearly and effectively.

No one is perfect, and you won’t always get it right when interacting with people older or younger than you. But there are some steps you can take that will make it easier to interact with various age groups. Here are some tips on how to promote better understanding with everyone you encounter, young and old alike.

1. Respect and Protect Your Elders

In many societies, the elderly are treated with respect and reverence, even making major leadership decisions in certain tribal cultures. But in places like the U.S., they’re too often treated like an obsolete nuisance, best kept out of public view. Families might strive to choose appropriate care facilities for elderly loved ones, but they may still face abuse, neglect, or substandard living conditions.

One of the best things you can do to promote understanding between generations is to hold your elders in higher regard. Take the time to listen to them, hear their stories, and see what wisdom you can gain from their lived experience. Slow down your pace, have compassion, and do what you can to make sure they’re treated fairly. And if you suspect mistreatment of a loved one in a care facility, contact a nursing home abuse attorney promptly.

2. …But Offer Younger Folks the Same Courtesy

On the flip side, strong intergenerational understanding also requires making space for young voices to be heard. Just because someone is from a later generation doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable knowledge to contribute. Many times, bright, fresh thinkers are underestimated, especially in the workplace. But their ideas may be the ones that move a company forward into the future.

When communicating with younger generations, take care not to assume you always know better. You may have much to learn from those who’ve grown up under completely different circumstances and in different times. Younger generations, for instance, are often more open to diverse viewpoints and individual preferences. You can learn a lot from younger folks about how to be more accepting and inclusive of all types of people.

3. Acknowledge Digital Differences

The various generations tend to approach technology, particularly phones and the internet, in extremely different ways. While this generalization doesn’t apply to every individual, there are certain commonalities among age groups. When communicating with people across generations, remember that what you consider rude vs. polite might be very different for someone older or younger.

For example, older generations often prefer a phone call over a text and don’t consider it off-putting to call someone unannounced. Younger people, meanwhile, may prefer a text — or at least a warning text before a call to confirm it’s a good time to talk. Younger generations may also tend to expect faster responses, while older ones may wait days or weeks to respond to an email.

4. Adapt Communication Styles

The mode or platform on which you communicate isn’t the only thing that affects your communication with various age groups. Cultivating understanding also requires understanding distinct communication styles when speaking and sharing ideas. This is especially true across all forms of written communication, where misinterpretation is all too easy.

You may encounter generational differences in the use of punctuation, emojis, or slang. Younger generations, for example, may find the use of periods in texting abrasive or unsettling. Different generations also disagree on the meaning of an ellipsis in texting, chatting, or emails. Older generations think they’re communicating a lost or trailed-off thought, while younger generations find the three dots passive-aggressive.

5. Provide Accessibility Options

Effective understanding across generations also necessitates awareness of difficulties that vary with age. For example, older adults are more likely to have hearing or vision loss or other disabilities. Especially in the workplace or in educational settings, steps should be taken to increase accessibility for these individuals. Accommodations should always be made to provide captioning for audio and audio descriptions for visual elements.

Younger folks, on the other hand, are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, autism, and other forms of neurodivergence. While these conditions have long existed, older generations may have been forced to cope their whole lives without real understanding of them. Older generations should offer accommodations and understanding for neurodivergent individuals, rather than maligning these conditions or not taking them seriously.

Listen to Understand

Even if you do your best to get everything right, there will always be occasional misunderstandings. Every person is unique, and you’re bound to come into confusion or conflict with someone at some point. The most important thing is to always listen to other generations with sincere intent to understand and connect. Your best efforts will go a long way, even if you mix up an emoji or say the wrong slang word.

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