Bridging the Generation Gap
Tools for Effective Multigenerational Communication
Communication is becoming ever more complicated and obscure as technology evolves. E-mails have replaced telephone conversations and text messages are slowly replacing e-mails. The generational gap regarding how we communicate is compounding our communication woes. Millennials are communicating via smart phone applications such as Snap Chat (which I still do not fully understand) and Kik, and the messages are made up almost entirely of acronyms and emoji’s. What’s a Baby Boomer to do? Heck, what’s a Xennial to do? How do we avoid the inevitable miscommunication created when allimportant nonverbal communication, such as body language and tone, are removed entirely from our daily discourse and younger generations communicate via fragmented, disappearing messages and emoji’s? How does an Association bridge the generation communication gap?
There’s no doubt that some technological advances have improved the speed at which we are able to convey messages, which has benefited Associations and residents alike. When an elevator or vehicular gate is out of service we have the ability to immediately send a mass e-mail blast to the residents, post a message on the Association’s Facebook page, and send out a “tweet” alerting those impacted. For this type of one-way communication, technological advances in communication have proven valuable. But what about older generations that do not rely as heavily on electronic communications and are not as engaged in online forums such as Facebook or Twitter? How do we work to ensure they receive community updates in a timely fashion and do not feel forgotten?
In addition, what can we do to mitigate against miscommunication and misunderstandings when communication is trending towards faster, more obscure methods? When we begin to rely too heavily on online forms and e-mail messages for two-way communication, our discourse breaks down, leading to misunderstandings and ultimately, frustration. And how could it not – experts say 97% of communication is derived from non-verbal communication, which is absent via these digital forums. As the old saying goes, it’s not what you say, but how you say it.
How do we service our Baby Boomer residents while at the same time satisfying the expectations of our Millennial residents? It takes a multifaceted approach to communication.
Set Communication Protocol
First and foremost, it is important for Associations to approve a communication protocol, clearly indicating how the Association intends to disseminate and receive communications with residents. To be effective, this communication protocol must meet the expectations of the multigenerational residents, from The Silent Generation (born between 1925-1945) to the Gen Z (born after 1995).
While smart phone applications and custom websites are ever more important to push out information expeditiously and meet the expectations of the younger generations, it is just as important to post hardcopy notices at communities. While there are residents who prefer e-mailing questions and concerns, or submitting service requests via a smart phone application, residents should also be able to pick up the phone and speak with a live representative or visit the management firm’s local office to engage with a team member in person. Focusing too heavily on online presence or neglecting to evolve to adapt to technological advances will inevitably cause communication issues with multigenerational residents.
The Association’s communication protocol should clearly indicate how information will be disseminated to residents. For instance, when a vehicular gate or elevator is taken out of service, residents will be notified via e-mail blast, “tweet” and/or Facebook post. At the same time, a hard copy will be posted at the community within 24 hours. Non-urgent information such as dates and times of future Board Meetings or required annual mailers will be made available online via the Association’s custom website, but will also be mailed out to all owners via regular USPS mail. I believe strongly that anything sent out electronically should be disseminated via hard copy as well, whether posted at the community or mailed to residents. While this may feel redundant, the goal of communication should be to reach the largest audience possible and if you only post notices or rely exclusively on electronic communications, you inevitably miss a segment of your audience. If your Association has a full-time on-site representative, posting notices is easy to coordinate. For those Associations without an on-site presence, I suggest asking for a Board Member or community volunteer to post notices and messages.
Associations should clearly address the proper protocol for submitting service requests and addressing questions or concerns, including which mediums will not prove effective. For instance, service requests may be submitted by calling into management’s customer care team or submitting a service request via the Association’s custom website, but requests or concerns posted on social media sites, such as Facebook or NextDoor will not be addressed.
Limit Social Media to One-Way Communication
Social Media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter and Next Door are effective mediums for pushing information out, but they should be limited to one-way communications and this expectation should be communicated to the residents. Turn on the Facebook function requiring all posts be approved in advance to ensure they are productive. In most cases, neither management nor the Board are monitoring the Association’s Facebook page regularly, so if residents are posting service requests, the posts do little to actually resolve the issue.
Because communication is becoming ever more complicated as technology continues to evolve, when miscommunication leads to frustration, a best practice is to get back to basics:
Don’t be Afraid to Pick up the Phone
We have all witnessed or been part of what feels like an email war or what reads like a tit-for-tat with residents via e-mail. I have found that e-mail and online discourse elevates the opportunity for misunderstandings due to the lack of non-verbal communication. E-mails and on-line messages often read more aggressively than vocal communication, especially with younger generations who are accustom to quick fragments to convey their messages. When you’re engaged in such counterproductive discourse, pick up the telephone and call the resident. Oftentimes you will find the person on the other end is far less aggressive and more amendable to a resolution than the person who was sending e-mails. By transitioning to this vocal form of communication, you will be able to evaluate the tone of the caller, ask follow up questions, and work towards an expeditious resolution.
When all else Fails, Offer to Meet in Person
Never underestimate the power of in-person communication. When e-mails and other online communication methods fail and a telephone conversation cannot resolve the issue, I always recommend scheduling an in-person meeting. In-person communication mitigates against miscommunication and misunderstandings because it incorporates non-verbal communication. This is especially true for the Baby Boomer Generation and Generation X, who did not grow up relying on e-mail, Facebook and Twitter as their primary means of communicating. While such a meeting may sound time consuming, in actuality such meetings typically yield more favorable results quicker.
As technology evolves, preferred means of communication will continue to change, inevitably leading to a greater communication gap between generations. It is important that Associations adopt a multifaceted approach to communication to ensure multigenerational stakeholders are engaged and properly serviced. By adopting a formal Communication Policy and Protocol to set expectations, utilizing both electronic and hard copy media when possible, and reverting back to live telephone calls and in-person meetings when communication breaks down, you will mitigate against miscommunication, and inevitably frustration.
Questions or additional requests for information can be e-mailed to Brad Watson, President of PMP, at bwatson@PMPmanage.com
**Please Note: PMP is not a law firm and nothing contained in this document should be considered legal advice. Legal questions should be directed to respective Association attorney.