Do Different Generations Have Different Styles?

“What really distinguishes this generation from those before it is that it’s the first generation in American history to live so well and complain so bitterly about it.”

Washington Post, 1993

The media loves to write about generation gaps. And it always has. This quote was written about Gen X, who are now in their 40s and 50s, but there are plenty of stories going back to Aristotle that would ring just as true today as they did then.

These opinion pieces rarely cite research to support their, well, opinions, and that’s because there isn’t any… at least none that would lead to clicks on their stories. After all, no news isn’t news at all.

A Baby Boomer might see a Gen Z colleague as entitled, demanding, and whiny. The Gen Zer might see the Boomer as rigid, boring, and cranky. But these perceptions aren’t because of generations – they’re because of age. When they were in their twenties, Boomers felt the same way about the older generations. Does anybody remember the 1960s?

At their core, people from different generations aren’t different from one another. Research on personality has found that generational differences represent between one and two percent of the personality pie.[i] This is so trivial it’s barely worth mentioning. People across age groups share similar values, goals, and attitudes; most people, regardless of generation, value family and friends, desire meaningful work, and want opportunities to develop their skills.

TRACOM’s latest research backs this up. We found no differences across generations on Style behavior or Versatility, meaning that the continuum of behavior exists across every age group in equal distributions.[ii] And this research comes from our multi-rater assessment: other people’s perceptions of one another, not self-perception. So, we can’t chalk this up to self-perception bias.

This is not to say that Style and personality cannot change over time as a person grows older. In fact, this can happen, as we discussed in a previous blog. As people mature, certain aspects of their behavior and personality can evolve. But these are age differences, not generation differences. The differences that DO exist across age groups are the same as they’ve always been. Younger people are less experienced and crave skill development, especially in soft skills such as communication, teamwork, adaptability, and leadership.[iii] These are the same things that every young person has always wanted and needed.

It’s easy to view other generations as less special or more needy than your own. Resist this urge, it’s your default lazy brain leading you astray. Instead, pause and consider those things that you can observe and predict about the person: what are their Style behaviors? What is their Style Need that they’re trying to satisfy? What stresses them out, and how do they behave in those situations? These are the things that might frustrate you but use your SOCIAL STYLE knowledge to guide you. Be generous: How can you help them meet their Style Need? How can you help them accomplish their work without getting unnecessarily stressed?

And what about their Versatility? Are they meeting requirements? Showing creativity? Communicating effectively? Working well in teams? If you’re older and more experienced, you can help them develop these skills by modeling them yourself and finding opportunities for them to learn. Think back on your younger self, this is what would have helped you.

Ignore the sensationalism about generational differences. Treat people as individuals and remember the Platinum Rule – treat others as they want to be treated.

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