Different generations connect differently

Your outlook on life may depend on the year you were born. Ever heard this theory? It's not entirely research-based, but I'm choosing to explore it anyway.

Let's say you're of the World War II generation (the "greatest" generation). You were born between 1922 and 1945. According to multiple sources, including "Connecting Generations," written by Claire Raines, your preferred "lifestyle" is working together toward common goals. The descriptive term is "traditionalists," people in their late 60s and older who always meet their obligations and have a well-embedded work ethic. In fact, a traditionalist would probably take affront if someone suggested otherwise.

In all aspects of life, these folks have comfort with centralized authority. As this generation gets older, there may be some crankiness at anyone who wants to "take over," but it's usually short-lived. After all, this is the generation that made a lot of personal sacrifices over the decades — they're well-practiced in that arena. Messages that may appeal sound something like "make do or do without" or "consider the common good." Perhaps that fits you?

If you fall in the boomer generation — born between 1946 and 1964 — you may have a more collegial, consensual way of doing business and are much less willing to be self-sacrificing. Boomers are more driven and competitive than the preceding generation. Personal gratification plays a big part in their relationships. They have a committed work ethic but are determined to have work-life balance. And they like life to be interesting and full of small adventures. The message that may appeal is "be anything you want to be."

Generation X'ers — born between 1965 and 1980 — are even more self-determining. They are prone to skepticism and inclined to make direct challenges to authority. These folks, who are in their 30s and mid-40s, prefer "participative decision-making." They are much more entrepreneurial than older generations and less willing to commit to causes or relationships. Their independent spirits resonate with messages such as "ask why."

"Millennials" (Generation Y) were born between 1981 and 2000. This is the truly tech-savvy generation. You may have a grandchild like this in his or her early 20s. They have a fierce determination and a loyalty to one another. They are more civic- and community-minded than we may give them credit for being. And they are both more realistic and more hopeful. Polite, too — keep your eye out for that. A compelling message might be "connect 24/7." Or my personal favorite, "be smart — you are special."

I'm drawing from materials developed by one of my colleagues at Oregon State University, Extension professor Nancy Kershaw. In each generational category, she offers recommendations for an improved "lifestyle." Her suggestions to "traditionalists" are "share your history," "stretch your adapter muscles" and "be a mentor."

To boomers, she says, "walk your talk" and "don't take it personally."

To the Gen-X folks, "engage with the team" and "be patient with the process."

And to all those fresh-faced millennials, she offers ideas like "listen more, talk less."

And she also says "look for a mentor." Sound familiar? Refer to an earlier generation. Connect accordingly.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, ext. 210.

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