Broken Communication Across the Generation Gap

Posted on May 25, 2017 · Posted in Analysis and Opinion, Impact and Symptoms

Fathers and Sons

I was talking to a veteran manager and he told me an anecdote that caught my interest.


This man had a son that had a room in the upstairs floor of the family house. One day the son told him he was sending him a web link of interest; the link failed to arrive. The father asked for a resend, which the son promptly effected; yet still no link was received. Finally my friend asked what email address the kid was sending it to – and the son, surprised, said “Skype!”…

A growing communication gap

What was happening is something I often observe: the younger generations –Y and Z – use many new messaging channels that their Baby Boomer parents often don’t use at all – and vice versa. Where the older folks are primarily email users, younger people are all about Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp and so on. But the problem isn’t just that  that they don’t share a channel to communicate on. There are many interesting implications here, such as:

  • The son in the story was unaware that his messages were going into limbo. He just couldn’t imagine that his Dad was not constantly logged into Skype. This is typical, and I observe it often: senders don’t bother to check that their intended recipients are users of the channels used. They just hit SEND and are confident that the connection will happen.
  • This situation is not limited to cross-generational mail. I often find messages that have been waiting for me in obscure corners of my digital world – say, on LinkedIn, where I check my incoming mail less religiously than on other channels.
  • The story highlights the fact that while email is certainly not going away anytime soon, younger people do tend to disfavor it compared to other methods.
  • Even when failed communication is not an issue, the profusion of channels is a problem. The people I work with use multiple channels to reach me – including Email, Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, SMS, LinkedIn InMail, and web site contact forms. Not only do I need to keep track of many streams, but also the channel chosen is often sub-optimal for the type of message (for example, when a long missive is shared using Facebook’s rather limited message interface).

So – what can we do about this?

One solution is to apply the concept of a Unified Inbox, a single user interface that shows you all your incoming messages in one place. There are various software tools in this space; run a Google search on “all your mail in one place” and “all your messages in one place” to find them.

Another option is to have those services capable of it notify your regular main email when you get a message in one of them. Combined with a rule to sort them into folders that make sense to you this can be a good workaround.

And of course, you can actually negotiate with your correspondents – when they say “I’ll send you the link”, specify “please send it to my Gmail address”, or to whatever service you prefer.

Organizations face a bigger challenge: Given that most workplaces today are multi-generational, with Gen Y and Boomers working side by side, it is critical to ensure that employees are all on the same page regarding the channels they use for work communications. If you manage such a diverse group, you would also do well to provide them with messaging effectiveness training that will teach them what channel to use in what circumstances for best productivity and least messaging overload  (give me a call if you need help on this).


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We have a generation gap to bridge!