By Gina F. Rubel
Special to the Legal
Now that I have reached what some would like to call middle age, I’m starting to have a much greater appreciation for the different communication styles among the generations. Technically, I fall in Generation X, yet I’m right on the cusp of the Baby Boomer generation. I was also raised by parents who straddled two generations. I remember my parents telling stories about what it was like to grow up during the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, JFK’s assassination and the Age of Aquarius. Youth in the 1960s and 1970s were seen but not heard. We knew to listen first and ask questions later.
So what has changed and why does it matter to lawyers and legal marketers? The answer is twofold: According to all of the generational experts, everything has changed and nothing has changed. And it matters because how we communicate among the generations can make or break the success of our businesses as it relates to HR, client communications, marketing, advocacy and just about every audience with which we need to correspond.
Recently, I read a cover story in Time about the millennial generation. Written by Joel Stein, the article calls today’s young adults “lazy, entitled narcissists” who essentially are this way because they have been raised by doting parents, also narcissists but to less of a degree, in communities that award everyone for everything, no matter what. Stein points out that this is the generation of “selfies” and visual documentation and that the average 1-year-old has more photos of him or herself than a 17th century French king. Stein quotes a great deal of data, much of which has been refuted by a number of naysayers, such as Elspeth Reeve of The Atlantic Wire. Stein also points out how smart this generation is and that they are truly motivated, just differently from past generations. This means that the messages we craft and how we deliver them to our employees, prospective clients, existing clients, juries and others need to be tailored even more to the generational audiences.
One thing that most cultural writers don’t dispute is that the way we communicate, and often our language pallet, has changed and does change. Take for example the phrase, “I know.” If I responded to my elders, teachers or early employers with the answer “I know” to any statement or guidance, I would have had the proverbial foot planted you know where. We were always taught that saying “I know” meant that you’re a know-it-all. Yet, today, most youth (including millennials in the workforce) respond to direction with the statement “I know,” which, I believe really means “now I know” or “OK, I understand.” Almost every time one of my children says, “I know,” I instinctively want to respond, “Oh, you do, do you?!” But what I try to remember is that their language pallet is different than mine. (That doesn’t mean I’ll ever tolerate the word “like” used as a conversation filler.)
Each generation communicates a little differently and to be successful you have to be able to communicate with all four of them. According to Kim Huggins, author of GENerate Performance, there are many similarities among the generations that should be embraced. She says that we need to keep it formal with traditionalists, engage in conversation with Baby Boomers, be direct with Generation X and seek collaboration with the millenials (a.k.a. Generation Y). Just as importantly, she encourages readers to embrace change, which means learning how to communicate with your various audiences in ways and with the words to which they will respond.
Gina F. Rubel is the owner of Furia Rubel Communications Inc., an integrated marketing and public relations agency with a niche in legal marketing. A former trial attorney, she is the author of Everyday Public Relations for Lawyers. Rubel and her agency have won many awards for legal communications, PR, media relations, website and graphic design, strategic planning, corporate philanthropy and leadership. She maintains a blog, is a contributor to National Law Review, The Legal Intelligencer Blog, AVVO Lawyernomics and The Huffington Post. You can find her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter. For more information, go to www.FuriaRubel.com.