If You Can’t Speak My Language At Least Try Not To Offend Me

Multi-generational work force – I heard that the other day and thought it was quite a mouthful, yet also true.  Think about it – you have the opportunity to work with three generations at once.  To me that is amazing and a bit frightening all at once.

Amazing because the insight and perspective that each generation lends and frightening as to how they communicate with each other.  Think about a bad Thanksgiving meal – it could be even worse because you are not forced to like these people.

I don’t know that my generation has a name or what it might be.  Sometimes I think it is the “I just need a day to myself to figure out how the hell I got to grownup with kids and still answering to my parents all at the same time” generation.  Maybe that is just me….

There is one thing for sure – we all speak a different language.  This was brought to mind a couple of weeks ago when I was enjoying cocktails with a friend.  At some point we had engaged in conversation with two post-teens – they were at least old enough to be in the bar but maturity-wise I’m being nice here in not commenting.

Anyway before they left the more bold of the two came up to me, grabbed my hand and stated, “So are we doing it or what?”  Seriously? Seriously.  Seriously!  I thought my friend was going to drop out of her chair from the look on my face and my response.  They left fairly quickly after that.

Perhaps that is appropriate for other post-teens but not in my book buddy.  I can understand that we do not speak the same language for example when his friend introduced himself with a “yo” but for goodness sakes, don’t be a jackass about it.

Many times you can tell that you are not speaking the same language based on the other’s reaction.  Visual clues of a furrowed brow, slight opening of the mouth in surprise, crossing of the arms, taking a step back – all of these are clear indicators that your message has not been perceived in a manner in which you intended.  Or if you intended to offend or upset you are nearing your target.

It is at this point that you should stop talking, pause, and state something very clearly – “I don’t think I am expressing myself correctly.”  Take ownership and then tell them what you are trying to say and start asking them clarifying questions.  Perhaps it is just a word that is being taken out of context.  It could be that you are more enthusiastic about the entire process and that is skewing your message.  Whatever it is you need to change tactics and ask them what they are hearing so you can get on the same page.

In written communication you do not have the luxury of reading immediate responses.  In this case you should always error on the side of overly cautious.  For the younger generation treat your audience with respect as you would your parents or grandparents.  Do not use slang – we do not always get your language.  For my generation do not speak down to either generation as both are smarter than us in many ways.  For the older generation do not assume you do not have value to contribute and be afraid to voice it and do not assume that we don’t care.

The best way to tune into their language is to listen.  Actually close the mouth, open the ears and listen without interrupting or trying to interpret.  Then take this a step further – ask clarifying questions.  Understanding that we speak a different language is one step – respecting it is another.

I may not like the way my son talks at times and there are times that my mom completely looses me – but I try.  And because I make an actual attempt and effort we have much better communication – even we agree to disagree.

You have a myriad of audiences in which you must interact.  Being mindful of this and adjusting your presentation and communication style to your audience will help ensure that all parties get the most of the collaboration.


Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.


Leave a Reply