Three Ways to Build Rapport Across Generations by Christa Ward, 4GenNow Sr. Researcher
If we all communicated in the same way, it would be easy to create a startup with a person from a different generation. Baby Boomers and members of Gen X-Z would all sit around the campfire and having plenty of “kumbaya” moments. That’s certainly an optimistic way to approach your intergenerational startup venture, but when you come back to reality, you know communicating across generations can be challenging. However, it’s a challenge that everyone involved in your startup has to be willing to accept. Recent research shows for the first time in history we now have five generations working side by side. Clearly, establishing a rapport across generations is not just a desire, it’s a necessity.
There’s no one way to accomplish this because effective communication depends a lot on context. Here are three tips to help you build rapport with your intergenerational co-founders.
Our communication styles are based on learned behaviors and expectations. Generations expert, Amy Lynch, summarized this idea in her work on how to grow your generational IQ. Her Gen IQ test sheds light on the idea that Baby Boomers have a let’s do the right thingapproach to entrepreneurship while Gen X tends to have a let’s get results approach. Millennials, she notes, have a let’s do this together approach while Gen Z takes a more what should we do approach. More importantly, Lynch suggests, after years of studying communication across generations, that the second you think you know what a member from another generation wants or how they communicate, think again. In other words, understanding how members of a generation communicate is the beginning of the process not the end. Be prepared to recognize and capitalize on the positive impacts different communication styles can have on your business.
I know elevating the positive and eliminating the negative sounds like a cliché, but it’ a good way to start building rapport with your co-founder. Different does not have to equal bad. Focus on the positive ways to incorporate generational uniqueness into your startup. If you identify as a Baby Boomer and your co-founder identifies as a Millennial, take their need to collaborate and your desire to do the right thing and create the perfect vision for your startup. Similarly, if you identify as a member of Gen X and your co-founder identifies as Gen Y, take your fast reaction to change and their resourcefulness into developing an idea for a product that is both innovative and sustainable.
Another way to build rapport is to focus more on generational similarities. For example, experts label those who identify as Gen Z as more realistic and Baby Boomers as idealistic. As an entrepreneur, you might be thinking, “Where’s the common ground here?” Some might argue it’s the simple fact that both groups weigh their options before acting upon them and think about what’s in their best interests. Find moments to capitalize on the commonalities that will help to make your startup a success.
Generational literacy and accentuating the positive aside, your goal as a startup should be to achieve success. In her blog on team building across generations, Kate Nasser reminds us that success is ageless. Let that sink in for a minute. At some point during the creation and execution of your startup, you will have to set aside what you think you know about a generation and focus on what’s important. And if you are a startup, creating a successful business is your primary goal.
These are just a few ways to help you establish rapport across generations. Do you have some tried and true methods that have worked in your startup? If you do, share them here. We would love to continue the discussion.