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“Each new generation is a fresh invasion of savages.”

William Hervey Allen (1889–1849), American author

Chapter Overview

For the first time in history, the workplace includes members of four different generations. The world view of each group is shaped by the unique social events and trends of their early lives, which change through the years. As a result of these differing perspectives, generational differences can arise, potentially resulting in misunderstandings that impair effective communication. This chapter describes the defining characteristics of each generation and their impact on attitudes and expectations related to engaged professionalism. Strategies to promote effective intergenerational communication in the context of PT practice are described and explored.

Disclaimer: The generational characteristics described in this chapter are not intended to stereotype or to suggest that each group will behave in predictable ways. Rather, the collective attributes described reflect behavioral trends, the awareness of which can enhance communication.

Key Terms

  • Generations

  • Professionalism

  • Communication

Introduction: The Relationship of Generational Studies to External Communication

Our study of external communication has been grounded in the context of social intelligence and its components of awareness and skills. As you will discover in this chapter, each generation creates its own social culture. Today's society now features the unique world views of four distinct generations spanning a 100-year age range. As a physical therapist you will interact with each group in several contexts: as a patient, colleague, and teacher. The ability to apply effective communication skills to your interactions with each generational group can be enhanced by awareness of their prominent behaviors and expectations. The following are examples of how generational differences can affect communication:

  1. A 60-year-old insurance case manager notes that the quality of written communication from one PT facility has deteriorated in the past month. Several notes have been submitted with spelling errors, poor grammar, and incomplete sentences. This facility has just hired several young new graduates who rely on computer-based documentation.

  2. Following complaints from several middle-aged patients, a clinical site feels compelled to rewrite its student intern professional dress code to include “no visible tattoos or facial piercings.”

  3. A new PT department manager, 35 years old, finds himself in conflict with his 50-year-old supervisor over the latter's elaborate procedures for budget requests. The supervisor feels that these have always worked in the past and is reluctant to make any changes.

In each of these examples, differences in generational norms may contribute to the potential for negative judgments, leading to conflict. Having an understanding of these differences can shift the focus away from subjective evaluations and toward the objective identification of solutions.

“When I Was Your Age…” The Nature of Generational Differences

When it comes to the acknowledgment of intergenerational differences, probably no ...

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