Generation Gap Series: Communicating With Gen Xers

Gen XMeet Jake.  He’s 43 years old, his hair is thinning and stress is taking a heavy toll on his features.  He mourns his diminished vitality, where did the years go?  All those millennials at work are hard to keep up, as he heads into full blown midlife crisis.  Maybe a new red sports car or taking up skydiving will help reclaim his lost youth.  Hey, isn’t 40 the new 20?! Jake is a typical member of Gen X.

America’s middle child, The Lost Generation, today’s 35-50yr olds are misunderstood by the other generations.  They are cynical on big business, big government, major institutions – why should they care?

Now as the Boomers retire in droves, Gen Xers are taking over the corner office in corporations and in government, and they are doing things differently now that it’s their turn.  Some of the changes are apparent in the shakeup playing out currently in the political arena today.  Kiss goodbye the good old days, when things fell into an understandable pattern; those days were a product of another time, never to return.

Who are the Gen X generation and how to best communicate with the new regime?

Gen X are the first latch key kids, street smart and skeptical as a matter of course.  Their Boomer parents were either divorced or career-obsessed, leaving them isolated and in daycares.  When they became adults, the prosperity bubble burst and reality set in: the economic gravy train was over, with corporate downsizing and unemployment of the ‘80s.

This is a generation that is cautious and pragmatic.  They know that you have to work hard to get what you want, and even then opportunity that is here today may not last through tomorrow.  Realistic to an extreme, they lack the unbridled optimism of their parents.

With a large burden of student debt, Gen Xers are in no rush to start adult life.  They are socially conscious, putting careers on hold for a cause they believe in.  Rather than reach for the stars, they strive to just have an impact, even if that’s on a smaller scale.  Save the neighborhood is more their thing; leave save the world for the millennials.

They marry later, are anxious to make their marriages work (to not repeat their parents mistakes) and have children later. It’s important for them to ‘be there’ for their children.  They are the helicopter parents that are exhaustingly present in their kids’ overscheduled lives.  These parents are achievement-obsessed with their children, maintaining full control of the many details.  Their kids are tirelessly doted on, to over-compensate for the lack of parental time spent in their own childhoods.

The best way to communication with Gen Xers is to appeal to their pragmatism, keeping the communication realistic as they are, which may involve combining old ideas in new ways.  Reduce, reuse, upcycle!  Celebrate their tech savvy-ness by using technology as the preferred channel of communication.

Also to be celebrated: DIVERSITY!  Not just nationalities, but also the blending of ideas, ways of thinking – no cookie cutter mentality for them.  With so many differences to celebrate, the integration and incorporation of multiplicities strengthens the whole.

Finally, it’s helpful to know their hot button: the value of hard work, as the avenue to success.  They believe that nothing is handed to you or just drops into your lap.  This generation’s entrepreneurial style knows that you have to put in the extra effort, pay your dues, labor in the trenches.  Work is a challenge, but a welcome one.

Understanding how a generation ticks, as a product of the times they lived through and as a reaction to their parents is one key component to effective communication.  Next in the series: BABY BOOMERS.

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