Professional communication, especially about sensitive financial matters, requires planning, positioning, and analysis. Those best at building positive relationships understand how both they and the person with whom they’re speaking process information. Credibility, honesty, and empathy all matter. And when one tries to compel another into action, setting expectations and customizing the approach according to the audience can raise chances of success significantly. There are many ways to make decisions about tailoring your message and delivery, but a good framework with which to start is the different communication preferences between generations. When it comes to financial services in 2018, we actively engage with three of them regularly: Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millenials. Each of these generations has been defined by myriad social influences and events that shape their understanding of the world, and the ways in which they communicate.
Baby Boomers, for example, had front-row seats to the Cold War, Post-War Boom, Apollo Moon Landings and Woodstock. Perhaps more importantly, research shows they built the economy in which we live. Their parents, just coming from World War II, took advantage of the GI bill that made them more highly-educated than any generation before. That meant their children were raised in a very uniform culture and had a more professional environment for work and play than those who preceded them. Baby Boomers watched the advent of subdivisions and were the first to grow up in those homes.
These factors, followed by several decades of economic growth, have made Baby Boomers perhaps the most optimistic of generations currently in the workforce. No economic downturn truly affected this group until much later in their professional lives. In response, they were the first to apply innovations in computing to corporate America in ways that would help correct those issues. So Baby Boomers see themselves as “tech people,” and liberal in comparison to their parents – Especially when coupled with the counterculture they espoused. To be sure, their views tend to lean conservative compared to Gen Xers and Millenials. But that makes it easy to forget they were the first generation to attempt acceptance of civil rights, and more equal treatment of women. In this cultural context, Baby Boomers are actually a lot more liberal than they get credit for.
So what does all this mean when it comes to effectively communicating with them? Consider first that Baby Boomers have stayed in their positions at work for much longer than any other generation. That means even though those in the workforce today tend to be nearing the end of their careers, job security remains a key motivator for them as a call to action. With retirement a reality, or approaching, they tend to be risk-averse, but willing to make agreements. All this means that Baby Boomers are more likely to “figure it out” with you once they’re on the phone. Most managers and executives today are Baby Boomers. There is a real risk in the choices they make – Not only for themselves, but for their families, businesses, and potential employees.
How does Baby Boomer make those choices? Funny enough, their preferences have a lot to do with choice itself. An experiment at a farmers market may shed some light on the matter: Given the chance to purchase jam from a range of samples, a large group of customers is likely to spend more when fewer choices are presented to them, even though they sample more when a large range of choices are available. Baby Boomers are particularly applicable to this experiment. Too many choices to them mean too much risk in making a bad decision, and yet having a choice is crucial when it comes to their willingness to engage.
Consider these important tips when it comes to interpersonal communication with Baby Boomers:
- Always present choices. Frame your conversation with Baby Boomers in a way that gives them choices – illusory or not.
- Limit the complexity of the choice. Simplify the solutions available as much as possible. Doing so inspires confidence in risky decisions.
- Offer the opportunity to decline, rather than choose. People accept choices more often when they’re made for them. Give them options, but framing the choice with the use of a default is powerful.
The ultimate goal here is to recognize if you’re overwhelming the person and avoid it. Overwhelmed consumers tend to make no decisions at all when both parties would benefit from any kind of choice. Service reps tend to clutter their calls with consequences, laying all the cards on the table, rather than offering simple choices. And truly, that boils down to offering a statement of hope, one to which Baby Boomers respond particularly well.
Boomers are a hopeful generation. They had a hand in making the world a better place for themselves and their kids, and they used innovative means to fix problems that arose during their lives. Showing them they have choices goes a long way. It’s your job to present it to them efficiently, and accurately.