June Commander's Corner
By Maj. Brian Doyle, 169th Maintenance Operations Flight
/ Published May 29, 2015
MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- I was at a family cookout last month watching how four generations of people interacted together. Some were telling large stories, while others were tapping away at their cell phones most of the day. We are like a large family at McEntire too, yet we have military protocol to follow in our communication practices. While we may come from different backgrounds and ethnicities, we desire to do something bigger than ourselves to protect our nation, which unites us. Each person has a unique way of communicating, but what sociologists notice is that each generation tends to have some common preferred methods in how they converse. This article is not meant to stereotype any age group nor does it apply to any particular person, but explores how generations may prefer to communicate. The better we understand how our McEntire family communicates, the better we interact with relation to our military culture.
The three main generations serving at McEntire now are Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials (sometimes called Generation Y). Baby boomers were born between 1946-1964, Generation X (1965-1980), and Generation Y (1981-2000). The Silent Generation, born between 1900-1945, won't be discussed much in this article, but I can't go on without acknowledging the amazing things they accomplished. They served in WWII and Korea and saw a great economic buildup of our nation from their hard work. Many members of the SCANG Retiree's group are part of this generation.
Baby Boomers grew up hearing about Sputnik, NASA endeavors and may have even watched Neil Armstrong land on the moon in the Apollo 11 mission. Technological advancement is familiar to them, but technology is not as preferred as much by them during most forms of communication. Baby Boomers often use a more direct style of communication, like face to face or the telephone to carry on conversations. Both parties are able to read verbal and non-verbal clues to understand each other immediately on the topic.
Generation X'ers grew up interacting with both the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers who used face-to-face or telephone conversations to talk. Social media and the ability to text from a phone did not exist in their formative years. Email and the internet in the home came about in the mid-90s when they were teens or young adults, so that is when e-communication began to integrate into their lives. As for an overall communication style, Generation X'ers may like a more relaxed style of communication that could be a mix of in-person conversations with email and texts.
Millenniums grew up with e-communication engrained into our American culture. Their generation found an ability to use cell phones as an e-communication devise to carry on multiple conversations that could be linear or non-linear. For example, 15 conversations could be happening simultaneously and multiple people could be added or deleted from the conversation. There is a loose protocol in text based conversations, so responses and reactions are left to interpretation by both parties. The time it takes to respond, emojis, punctuation marks, message length and word choices are clues used to build perceptions about the conversation tone. This can lead to relaxed and convenient conversations, but can also cause undue panic if responses are misinterpreted.
Our military culture is timeless in that it continues to rely heavily on face to face communication. We must safely work in the physical world in teams to meet a time sensitive mission. We have to ensure our messages are received and understood and often the best way to do this is by face to face or voice. In person, communication is especially important when discussing difficult topics such as disciplinary actions, change management or career retention. While some may be very comfortable with direct communication, our society continues to lean toward using electronic means. If our members are uncomfortable with face to face talks, then it is our job to help mentor them on this social skill to allow our family to communicate more effectively. For those uncomfortable with using e-communication, ask those that are frequent users how to navigate that world or understand it. Better communication directly improves the unit's ability to accomplish its mission.