Human beings share many characteristics. However, there’s no doubt that the sociocultural contexts in which we’re born, grow up, and continue to live impacts our personalities and how we view life. This is why people of different generations may have difficulties understanding, relating to, and interacting with each other. It’s known as the generation gap.
This phenomenon can be both positive and negative. It all depends on how it’s approached. Indeed, while certain differences can hinder coexistence, others can enrich environments and those who inhabit them.
From families to companies or neighborhood communities, this mixture of generations is a constant in our daily lives. Moreover, we can take advantage of it.
The generation gap
One of the most common ways of segmenting the population is based on their age or year of birth. In other words, depending on the generation to which they belong.
Historical and cultural events such as economic crises, technological developments, and revolutions differentially mark the behavior patterns of these groups of people, giving them certain particularities.
In 2012, Kotler and Keller presented one of the best-known classifications in this regard. They designated six different groups: the silent generation, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, and centennials. The generational gap designates the differences in attitudes, values, and behaviors between the members of these categories.
The visibility of the generation gap
This gap appears in various contexts. In fact, it arises in all those instances in which people from different cohorts come together.
The disparity in knowledge between the ages is evident, especially when it comes to the digital divide. The new generations are digital natives. They use the Internet and technological devices in a way that their predecessors never mastered. In addition, their knowledge of languages tends to mark a barrier or inequality between them and the other generations (Martín, 2020).
Each generation also has its own communication style. This may make exchange between them difficult. For example, it can hinder communication between teacher and student, but it can also affect the interaction between parents and children, or between different generations within the same organization or company (Fernández & Ulloa, 2006).
The core values of younger people differ markedly from those adopted by the older generations. For example, baby boomers tend to be more thoughtful and work-oriented, and those in Generation X place a higher value on work-life balance. While those in Generation Y exhibit more sociable and global attitudes (Gibson et al., 2009).
This can cause friction when different cohorts coexist or cooperate toward common goals since people’s priorities and ways of proceeding aren’t the same for everyone.
The way to motivate or encourage each of these generations is also different.
As stated in an article published in the International Journal of Economy, Management and Social Sciences, the more traditional generations tend to seek respectful communication and value personal relationships in business. Meanwhile, the new generations prefer more direct and clear communications (such as sending emails) and value equal treatment.
Whether a father wants to motivate his son to focus on his studies or a boss is trying to lead a work team, knowing what motivates each individual based on their generation is essential.
Advantages and disadvantages of the generation gap
All of these discrepancies are problematic for different reasons. As we mentioned earlier, they can hinder understanding between members of the same family or complicate collaboration in work teams.
Likewise, they might hinder the teaching process in educational centers or impair communication in any context that encompasses different generational groups.
However, the generation gap can also be an advantage in that such differences help to enrich the perspectives of all involved. For example, the younger generation can collaborate with the older ones and familiarize them with new technologies and open their minds to recent ideologies previously unknown to them.
With regards to the older generation, they can share their knowledge, give advice based on their experience, and transmit important values that, perhaps, had more weight in previous stages.
To take advantage of the generation gap, it’s important to implement a series of steps. For example:
- Respect every generation. To do this, we must abandon the idea that our ideals and perspectives are correct and attempt to impose them on those who think differently.
- Maintain open attitudes and genuine interest. We must bear in mind that diversity is a great asset for enriching ourselves and learning what, otherwise, we wouldn’t know.
- Identify and enhance the qualities and virtues of each generation. The values and attitudes of each age group can bring unique value to a family or organization if they’re appreciated and employed accordingly.
- Find common spaces. The fact that people from different cohorts live together and share time can be extremely beneficial. To do this, we should look for shared interests, projects, and hobbies that allow this exchange.
In short, the generation gap is an undeniable reality that we find ourselves facing in different fields. Understanding what it is and its influence leaves us in a better position to reduce friction and take advantage of diversity.
When interacting with individuals from different generations, we must maintain open and respectful attitudes. In fact, we may have to moderate our communication to adapt or make an effort to understand their values and what motivates them. Without a doubt, overcoming this gap opens the door to enriching exchanges.
Intergenerational Relationships Are Beneficial For Everyone