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I can't hear you.

A few months ago, I attended a joint ALA/LMA program on generational communication issues. I have read countless articles and actually have attended similar programs (Phyllis Haserot has been trying to educate me for years!) regarding this topic, but for whatever reason the practical discussion among the ALA/LMA panelists resonated well with me. The panel consisted of lawyers from four different law firms--each from a different generation: a traditionalist (born 1928-1945), a Baby Boomer (born 1946-64), a Gen-Xer (born 1965-1979) and a Gen-Yer (born 1980-2000).

Growing up, I remember my parents making statements like, "I don't understand your generation." I'll admit that I, too, have been saying the same thing both in my professional and personal life, because I realized something. We don't take the time to understand who we are talking to, listening to and interacting with on a frequent, and sometimes infrequent, basis. People should just understand me, right?

As this panel discussion related to the work place, one of the lawyers commented that some Boomers and Traditionalists don't think the younger generations work hard enough or care enough about their jobs. One Gen-Xer on this panel suggested that maybe older generations don't take the time to ask if Gen-Xers or Gen-Yers care about their careers. Even though they are not clocking in 12 hours a day in the brick-and-mortar office, they are working 24/7 in the virtual office and are dedicated to servicing their clients.

When discussing careers, the Traditionalist and Baby Boomer, have been secure and loyal to their first and perhaps even second, employer. The X and Y generation will change jobs until settling into one in which they are comfortable. As we know within our own industry, the work/life balance is very important to this group. These generations like to work as a team more than the Traditionalists or Boomers. So as we are putting our client teams together, perhaps we should think about this team concept and how we can make it more effective.

Business development is also a source of some confusion to the various groups-each generation brings a different skill and perspective. While we have senior attorneys and staff mentoring our junior attorneys and staff, we need to focus on identifying ways in which these groups can work together to be successful. Communication is key; but it's only as good as how well you deliver a message.

So I had an "ah ha" moment after this program. I currently have a staff consisting of Gen-Xers and Yers, a managing partner who is a Boomer and a member of our executive committee who is a Traditionalist. I'm still learning how to interact with these groups more effectively. And while I may never be absolutely successful, at least now I don't think one generation is not listening to me and the other is not working hard simply because they are not at their desks.

My other very profound discovery, to my dismay, was that they moved the dates for Baby Boomers--I'm now considered to be a Boomer (I used to tease my older siblings about being in that category!) How could they do that, and who decides?! But my message is to stop, listen and don't speak until you know with whom you are talking to or working with in both your professional and personal lives. I could have saved myself both time and frustration if only I understood how these generations communicate.

By Jeanne Hammerstrom, LMA President
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Title Annotation:President's Podium
Author:Hammerstrom, Jeanne
Publication:Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing
Date:Aug 1, 2011
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