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How to Communicate with Younger Colleagues

Dave Bernard

In today's workforce, baby boomers constantly interact with younger co-workers and managers. These younger workers have been raised in a generation of social media, with connectivity always and everywhere. Individuals constantly update their status and current events via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, texting, and other technologies. If anything new or unexpected occurs, friends are notified immediately. This tendency to constantly update and make on-the-fly changes sometimes leads to reluctance to meet commitments for meetings and appointments.

When baby boomers were young, our technology was pretty basic. We called each other from a land line, mail was in written form and took days to arrive, and "being connected" meant you knew people, rather than were accessible 24/7. Making plans required planning in advance, and last-minute changes happened only for emergencies. Our lives may have seemed less flexible, but we generally met commitments and arrived on time.

With the advent of today's smart phones, people are perpetually connected. Why worry about making changes in advance when, with a quick text, plans are easily altered at the last moment. It is a new way of thinking. Being late has become acceptable as long as you warn your companion before the actual hour ticks by. Fewer people feel obligated to honor specific time commitments since they can quickly make changes on the fly. Without feeling a need to stick to a scheduled event, a mindset develops that accepts last-minute changes as the norm, often frustrating those patiently waiting at the other end.

Have you had the experience of arriving on time only to receive a last minute message that "plans have changed" as your young friend lays out an alternative agenda? Some young people make on-again, off-again arrangements for a visit which changes multiple times until the very last minute. I have learned to write in pencil on my calendar and believe the kids are coming only when they physically walk through the front door.

Another concern is the incredible distraction that perpetual connectivity encourages. Everywhere you go people are using smart phones to communicate and update their status. Lunches are interrupted, conversations misunderstood, and attention is diverted from where it should be directed. Not only does it give the impression that those on the other end are more important than the person you are currently engaged with, but it can be dangerous. Every day I see people texting while driving. There is a time and a place for connectivity. A balance needs to be maintained if we are to best interact with each other.

Respect for each other's time and busy life is a basic tenant of living and working together harmoniously. Calendars are typically packed with events for the weeks and months ahead as we carefully monitor and balance free time with our obligations. We count on others to be there when they say, and that most changes will be made in advance.

This new lifestyle with instant access everywhere is not a bad thing. It is a powerful technology with broad applications that can be more effective if better controlled and managed. Baby boomers should attempt to understand that this is how the younger generation operates and adapt accordingly. If you have an appointment, reconfirm as the date gets closer. If you experience a last-minute change of plans, don't get angry. At least you were made aware of the delay and understand what is happening, rather than wondering what is up. Feel free to inform others that you are a bit of a stickler when it comes to being on time, but realize that you may be in the minority. Since it appears that perpetual connectivity is here to stay, a little tolerance can go a long way.

Dave Bernard is not yet retired but has begun his due diligence to plan for a fulfilling retirement. With a focus on the non-financial aspects of retiring, he shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only the Beginning.

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