Generation Y and New Intergenerational Issues, with Steve Gavatorta

In T+D Magazine (March 2012) from ASTD there is a great article from Steve Gavatorta concerning the arrival of Generation Y into management positions and the reaction of their baby-boomer direct reports.

Any ‘young-gun’ coming into a management position is bound to cause some upset for the more senior staff, but Steve argues that it is even worse this time, given the GenY tendancy to overlook some specific communication preferences of other generations (namely: face-to-face!). I contacted Steve with more questions, which he was kind enough to answer here…

(If you want to read the article first, follow this link…)

Intergenerational relationships have always existing in the workplace, just like intercultural relationships. Why is the emergence of GenY on the workplace causing so much ‘fuss’? How is the difference so different to previous generation-gaps?

I think the main reason is Gen Y’s strength and experience using technology – be it using advanced technological devices and/or social media venues to interact and communicate. Gen Y people grew up using these tools/methods to communicate so it is what ’they know’ and its comfortable for them. Meanwhile, other generations had to learn a bit later in life, so its harder for them to grasp and it’s not their main means of connecting and communicating…also some from other generations have also refused to advance with the technology/new communication methods – all of these reasons are creating a natural divide.

If we believe the communication experts, using non face-to-face methods for communications could lead to a lot of misunderstanding (GenY use these tools a lot). Add to this the initial inter-generational ‘culture’ differences that cloud understanding and its even worse…. What do you think?

I agree wholeheartedly – this method of communication is creating the big divide… two things happen when people solely use non face-to-face methods to communicate: Firstly, messages can get misconstrued and misunderstood. Secondly, there is a missing human factor that gets lost as well (facial gestures, eye contact, tone, body language) which diminishes ‘meaning’ in communication.  All these things lead to misunderstandings and ‘watered down’ messages and leads to ineffective communication.

The T-D article suggests that the effort for bridging intergenerational gaps must come from the older generation. Why is this? (Perhaps its simply that T-D readers tend to be non-Gen-Y, so the article was geared at them but I see a lot of this kind of talk…).

Yes the article was geared towards people who are now being managed by someone from Gen Y. However, my premise here is that if you want to be an effective communicator (with any generation, not just Gen Y) you must take the initiative. Why be stubborn and wait for them? Why wait and generate resentment? My point is to “take the bull by the horns” and open the door to effective communication. And if the Gen Y person is struggling with communication, it’s imperative to try and make the connections to help them become more effective in communicating.

What 1 piece of advice would you give to Gen-Y managers right now?

Get out of the comfort zone of using technology so much when trying to communicate. Its not that all Gen Y folks struggle with this issue, but they must in turn realize that to be successful they’ve got to master the human dynamic of connecting with others face-to-face as well. They must also embrace that we are all different and many people may not like to communicate solely through technology.

What is the role of learning&development professionals to support intergenerational ‘bridge-building’?

I think this is two-fold: Firstly, it is about creating an atmosphere whereby generational generalities are eliminated. To really discourage the stereotyping of any generation – the stereotyping simply closes down lines of communication. Secondly, creating the foundation for a common language across all generations by using behavioral based tools like Myers-Briggs or DISC to develop effective communication skills throughout the organization. By focusing on core behavior styles vs. generalities L&D professionals can create foundations for effective communication across generations.

Thanks for reading!




Dan Steer is freelance trainer bij Kluwer en learning & development consultant. Dan Steer is een Infinite Learning© kampioen, en gedreven door alles wat te maken heeft met SoMe, SoLearn en Enterprise 2.0.

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