Talkin’ ’bout — Speak up, Sonny!

Back in the day when I was teaching Business Communication I had my students do a group research project to help their (fictional) co-workers communicate better with colleagues from different generations. It was a good project because the research was pretty simple, and there is a lot of stuff online about the four (almost five now) generations currently in the work place. The biggest differences between the generations related to preferred communication media and fundamental values. As part of the project, students had to conduct a survey that would allow them to determine if the research they found was true of the people around them. This was important because it was a way for them to penetrate stereotypes. For example, the stereotype of Gen X is that it puts family before work and expects people to do the same; they might leave projects for another day: the stereotype of Boomers is that they put work before family and will stay at work until the job is done; the stereotype of Millennials is that they need constant communication and reassurance. What this means is that a Millennial with a Boomer boss or a Gen X boss is going to feel like they’re treading water in the deep end.

For a while the project was very successful, but over time, as No Child Left Behind had affected the learning abilities of more and more of my students, the big picture faded for them and it became a dangerous enterprise to write this report. How would they know if they got it right? What questions should they put on their survey? How could they have 20 questions when SurveyMonkey only allows 10 for free? The questions went on and on, most of them questions that could be answered by just a tad of critical thinking/reasoning/problem solving. They could actually do that — but their fear that their reasoning would lead to the wrong answer paralyzed them.

And they always felt I was holding out on them. When a student (one I liked!) said, “Fuck you!” to me one day when I passed back the projects, and the one done by his group earned a B (for concrete reasons that had been specified in the assignment) I knew I was done. He apologized profusely and often afterward, and I heard from him a couple of times after I left California when the “kissing up” couldn’t BE kissing up, but the damage was done.

His generation and my “generation” were not going to last long in the same class room.

Generations probably didn’t matter when four of them lived under the same roof and did the same work the family had done for, uh, generations. Nowadays they reflect social changes that affect a (I hate this word) cohort of people in the same age group — No Child Left Behind is one. Dr. Spock was another — most Baby Boomers’ mothers had and used that book as part of raising their children. Kids who went to a one room school were less likely to be affected by some governmental edict regarding education. But still technology affects a generation. Plate armor saved lives.

The other day I read a very long and well researched discussion about why Hillary Clinton will be indicted for whatever crime sending classified emails on a non-State Department server would be. I was stunned by ONE statement:

Clinton’s only justification for the private server is that this system was more convenient for her. Because government issued blackberries could not control multiple email accounts at once, she argues it was simpler to carry out all her correspondence, work and personal, on one phone under one email rather than through different emails between two phones.

While that answer has generated abundant scorn and skepticism from the Republicans (and Democrats), was technological simplicity really that ridiculous of a request from a then 60-year old Hillary Clinton? Would you expect your grandma to want to use two different cell phones?  Read the whole article here.

Try as I might, I don’t understand why that comment is there. But I do recall how my students were somehow convinced that because they could use (so-called) “technology” more easily than their parents, that they had somehow invented it.

“No guys, you just grew up with it. Someone invented it back in WW II. That’s right. Your great-grandparents.” I wanted to say that, but I knew it was all they had to cling to. 😉

The gap between THAT generation and MINE is enormous, but it isn’t what many of them (and/or us) think it is. It’s not that Millennials are more technologically advanced than we Baby Boomers. When I walked out of the classroom FOREVER I was far more adept at using current technology than my students were; I had to be if I were going to teach them.  The gap is more profound — but the biggest part of any gap between generations is…


…the gap of maturity and experience.

6 thoughts on “Talkin’ ’bout — Speak up, Sonny!

  1. The biggest gap of all? Younger generations unyielding belief that they are entitled to the good life. Not by dint of earning it, but just because. And when it doesn’t happen, they blame the whole world for cheating them of their birthright.

    • I disagree, Marilyn. I think a lot of that attitude comes from not knowing much about life. Many of those who have the “entitled” attitude just don’t know about “earning it” because they’ve never had to. That’s inexperience and life will remedy that.

  2. My kids grew up with many of the ‘entitled’ kids, and they knew exactly who they were and did not agree with those kids’ way of thinking. I agree with you–maturity and experience are HUGE.

    • I don’t think in my classes the “entitled” kids were in the majority — maybe 2 out of 30 on average. But there were classes that were pretty difficult because of the entitlement thing. It was not a generational thing either, necessarily. That’s why I didn’t really “go there” in this little essay.

  3. Generation gaps can be huge and I have my own complaints about that. I read the link about H. Clinton’s mess with her emails. Don’t think I’ve read anything so in-depth and with essentially the same thing being written in a very long time. Whether she is right or wrong doesn’t matter at this point, the republicans will most likely hang her from the rafters of congress or the house.

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