Young Versus Veteran Communication Styles

The March 2007 issue of PMI’s PM Network features a story titled “Bridging and the Gap”. It examines some of the differences in communication style and communication between veterans and newer professionals. I enjoyed the article, and found some points that I agreed with, and others that were in conflict with my own experiences.
Dave Davis, PMP, quotes in the article that “the younger generation does not grasp the value face time and the importance building a team identity… They avoid group meetings and social time and end up identifying more closely with the tasks than the company.”
Ouch. I can see where he could be right. It wasn’t too long after I entered the professional realm that I realized the importance of relationships in getting things done. This was mainly because I had a mentor who was kind enough to give me a kick in the teeth when needed.
If you live within walking distance of them, get up and talk to them. If this is not possible, you can pick up the phone to call them. Email should not be used to follow up, give technical details, or attach files.
This made a lot more sense to me. Although I have tried to live this way, I admit that I sometimes find myself saying “Why didn’t you just pick up the telephone and call?” This is something I have seen with colleagues, and I will admit that younger people seem to be more afraid to pick up the telephone and call or walk over to discuss something. Recently, I’ve had people come to my desk to ask me what to do about an email that arrived via email. It’s an email chain with at least 3-4 replies. No one is understanding each other. I usually reply, “It looks like the email is finished.” Give them a call. For the email chain question, I personally have a rule: If there are more than two replies and still need clarification, it’s time for me to walk over or pick the phone.
Since that wise advice, new communication channels have emerged. There are now chat, screen sharing/online collaboration tools, and video conferencing. Chat is a great tool for younger professionals if it’s done right. It can also be a benefit to older people if it’s not. Chat is easy to use for people aged 30 and below. Video conferencing isn’t widely used yet. If it is, it’s usually for more formal meetings, and not daily/weekly. Screen sharing and online collaboration tools can be great, especially if you’re on the phone. It can be a great way for you to share a tool, train, and collaborate on project plans.
Personally, I see the opposite trend in following up on verbal communications by sending out a written summary or action plan. The more experienced people tend to attend a meeting and not send action items, meeting minutes, etc. I would expect a 50% hit rate for following up on meetings with younger and less experienced people like me. This could be because I use my own set of form templates to send out status reports and summaries. They are not company-standard. I don’t know of any company templates for meeting summaries or status reports. I believe younger people are more open to creating their own processes based upon the circumstances.
In conclusion, I believe that everyone has something to gain and improvements to make. If you are a new professional, find a mentor in geriatrics and listen to their advice. For veterans with scars from battle, find a young whipper-snapper to show you the ropes. But listen, and learn from them.