The benefits of cross-generational conversations

A new study looks at the benefits of cross-generational conversations and shows how, when they talk to each other, older and younger people find they have more in common than they thought.

Older man and younger woman looking at a computer

 

People expect to have more in common with a person from the same generation, but when they come face to face they find they  have as much in common with cross-generational conversation partners as with same-generation partners, according to a new study.

The researchers, led by Dr Gillian Sandstrom, Senior Lecturer in the Psychology of Kindness at the University of Sussex, recruited participants aged 25-30 years old and 65-70 years old, and paired them with a partner who was either from the same age group (same-gen) or the other age group (cross-gen). Participants told the researchers how they thought the conversation would go, had a 15-minute conversation with their partner via Zoom and then reported how the conversation actually went. The aim of the study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, was to investigate whether people’s expectations and experiences differed depending on their own age and the age of their partner.

They found that people expected to enjoy cross-generational conversations more than same-generational conversations, but in fact they enjoyed same- and cross-generational conversations equally. However, older people tended to anticipate and experience more positive outcomes than younger people.

All participants were very interested in talking again, with no meaningful differences emerging between younger and
older participants.

Younger participants made comments such as: “I was worried it was going to be awkward and we would have nothing in common or to speak about. However, as soon as the conversation started I realised how wrong that expectation was
and I actually had a lovely time chatting with her and we had so much in common!”

Another said: “Age is just a number. You can relate and get along with anyone if you find a common topic to talk about.”

An older participant stated: “Initially I was hoping to have a conversation with someone closer to my age, so I was a little apprehensive about finding topics we could both discuss, given the differences in our ages. But, it
went very well and we were communicating for the entire 15 minutes.”

There is growing interest in managing multigenerational teams, initiatives such as reverse mentoring and other attempts to address ageism – at both ends of the spectrum. Workingwise.co.uk held an event on managing multigenerational teams at National Older Workers Week. One panellist was Dawn Moore, Group People Director at engineering and construction firm Murphy Group. Her firm has been heavily involved in the Kickstart Scheme to help younger workers get back into work after the pandemic and Moore says all the young recruits hired via the scheme have been buddied up with older, experienced workers.

The feedback from both older and younger workers has been very positive. “Everyone says they have learned so much from it,” said Moore, who believes firmly in the value of employees being exposed to the ideas and experiences of people from a different generation from their own. “It has opened older workers’ eyes to new thinking and it has prepared young people for the kind of training they may need later in their career,” said Moore.

 



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