A(nother) battle for the ages

It’s time for a generational ceasefire. We’re more alike than different. Communicators — keep that in mind.

By Shannon Midgley and Colleen Wilber

Shannon Midgley and Colleen Wilber at the official White House Arrival Ceremony for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Everywhere you look, we’re being pitted against one another. And we’re not talking about the presidential election or Michigan vs. Ohio State football.

Rather, Millennials vs. Gen X.

Even the latest Survivor season (yes, the original reality show is still around) is dedicated to this dual.

Understanding the generations — and the differences between them — is not a new phenomenon and it certainly is useful, especially for communicators. But what if all we’re led to believe about each other isn’t entirely right? What if we’re missing the point by focusing on the differences and as a result are missing opportunities?

It’s a digital world and we all live in it

Ask any communications firm or public relations professional what the “future” looks like and the words “digital” and “millennial” are sure to come up.

While the dizzying array of digital tools and gadgets are important and play a significant role in our work, the heart of strategic communications will always remain in the messaging. If an individual, company or organization’s message is not well developed, no digital tool in the world can make up for that.

As for millennials, there is a growing obsession to better understand them — what makes them tick, how do they think and how are they different from Gen. X? The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a whole new career subset that is popping up where companies actually pay someone (as much as $20,000/hour!) to help them “understand millennials.” Saturday Night Live has skits about it.

The amount of time, effort and money spent trying to understand our differences would offer a boost to any economy or business — but is it worth it?

We don’t entirely think so. As a Millennial and Gen. X’er, it feels like the desire to draw lines in the sand may have gotten out of hand and, more importantly, may be for naught.

What if, after all this research, training and reality show duals, the only real thing we know for sure is that we are much more alike than anything? And how is this any different than previous generations? Maybe Winston Churchill’s warning about forgetting history rings loudly here. That’s why we’re calling for a generational ceasefire.

The more things change the more they remain the same

A new workplace study from McKinsey and LeanIn.org found Millennial and Gen. X women are having virtually the same experience when it comes to their workplaces and the challenges they face. Similarly, a Gallup poll found that the greatest priorities for Millennials in the workplace — 87% percent — are professional growth and opportunities to learn.

Sound familiar? At 14 years apart, those are our priorities as well.

We spend a lot of time at MSLGROUP figuring out which new technology or gadget to use to communicate to our intended audience. Those gadgets are valuable. They help us reach people more directly and they better analyze the impact of those communications — and in a cost-effective way for our clients. However, they aren’t the foundation for reaching people; they are the vehicles for delivery and we must remember that.

While these vehicles may continuously evolve, get faster, smaller or the sentences get shorter, what these studies and history continue to remind us is that in the end it’s all about the message. It all boils down to the simple fact that people want to be heard. They want to feel like they matter and to be respected. They want to be connected to something and someone larger than themselves. It’s why PBS FRONTLINE and Upworthy can coexist.

The only difference? One of us is using Snapchat and iMessage while the other is sending emails or talking on the phone.

We have the same desires and are navigating the same obstacles in the workplace — and in life. To our core, we are more alike than different. We care about the basics — say please and say thank you. We care about the value of a community and want to be involved in meaningful projects at work. We both want to grow professionally but have time for the things and people that matter to us. It’s a balancing act that no generation has seemed to master yet but we keep hope alive.

Our own personal working experience has found far more similarities than differences. So, let’s talk more about those synergies. As communicators, we can help better tell this story. And let this serve as a reminder to all of us about what really matters in our work. Meaningful connection — and that starts with a message, not a medium, and there is no generation for it.

Shannon Midgley was born at the end of the Millennial generation and is an Account Executive with MSLGROUP. When Colleen was starting her career, Shannon was starting third grade. Her first cell phone was a Nokia 6102 flip phone. She currently uses an iPhone 6.

Colleen Wilber was born at the end of the Gen-X generation and is a Vice President with MSLGROUP. Shannon was four years old when Colleen had her first job in a newsroom. Her first cell phone was a Startac Motorola flip phone. She currently uses an iPhone 7.

Shannon and Colleen follow each other on Instagram and volunteer at the same women’s shelter in Washington, D.C. They work together closely at MSLGROUP and love it.