Communicating Boomers & Gen X: How to avoid workplace conflict

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Conflict at work is not something to be avoided, it is something to be well managed. It takes effective communication, a willingness to address the issues, and the ability to clarify (and be aware of) the assumptions that turn a respectful dialogue into workplace confrontation.
What makes communication across the generations so challenging? Why does conflict emerge in diverse workplaces? Is there a way to avoid conflict all together? Why can’t people just play nice in the sandbox together?
These are some of the common questions about workplace relationships that I receive when I speak in businesses, organizations, non-profits and conferences on the topic of communication and conflict resolution. Let’s break these down one at a time.
What makes communication across the generations so challenging? People in general have different learning styles, communication styles and personalities, and all of these difference impact how people communicate and work together. When in communication with people whose style is different from your own, there is often a series of assumptions that get made (because you think that others think just like you). Additionally, one’s experience and comfort with difference communication modalities often shapes how they communicate.
To illustrate this point, let me share a powerful reminder about the differences in communication in the workplace and how these differences can both hinder and help team functioning. I remember facilitating a Team Charter process with a government department. This team was comprised of very seasoned/tenured employees and the other half were new to the profession in the past 3 years. This group was taking notes from the meeting on their cell, plugging meetings into their calendars in real time. The more seasoned group was writing notes on their notepad and using their daytime to schedule meetings. Neither is right or wrong, they simply are different approaches to the end result. This difference did leave room for a lot of assumptions. One of the seasoned staff in frustration blurted out something to the effect of “would you put your phone away and stop texting or Facebooking. For Pete’s Sake! We are in a meeting.” The colleagues responded, “I am typing the meeting notes and have sent them all to you. I also did a calendar invite to you all for the upcoming meetings. ”
This was a great example of an assumption that got acted on (the colleague blurted the assumption rather than checking out the assumption), and in many cases this creates a hornet’s nest of accusations and finger pointing. So how do you check out assumptions instead of blurting?
ASK. Ask questions. Be curious and resist the urge to blurt. These simple but powerful skills will help you keep your workplace communications respectful, on track, and effective.  The next blog will address the remaining questions.