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The Veterinary Clinics of North America. Small animal practice
Volume 51 | Issue 5 (September 2021)

A Strategy for Effective Generational Communication in Veterinary Medicine.

Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. September 2021;51(5):985-997.
Elizabeth M Charles1, Kelly Farnsworth2
1 Veterinary Leadership Institute, Lincoln Memorial University, RadiologyRules, PO Box 1476, Temecula, CA 92591, USA. Electronic address:; 2 Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA.
Copyright © 2021 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


In today's veterinary practices, 5 generations (traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, and Generation Z), each with a unique way of looking at the world, are trying to work together effectively. Common strategies for managing this multigenerational workplace include villainizing "other" generations or merely tolerating their presence. Conflict, disagreements, and misunderstanding often get in the way of practicing quality medicine. Thus, veterinary health professionals must develop strategies that allow for effective communication, not only within the practice but also with clients, vendors, and other stakeholders, a strategy that builds bridges among the generations through engagement, regardless of generation.

Companion Notes

Report on a strategy for effective generational communication in veterinary medicine


Introduction on the generation gap

- a generation gap has always existed and is not just a present day situation

- younger people feel entitled and are too sure of themselves

- older people are stuck in their ways

- the size of that gap is affected by many factors

- internal factors like personality, responses to stress, what’s happening in society etc

- external factors like socioeconomic status, the way one is raised etc

- currently there’s 3+ generations trying to work together

(“All generalizations are dangerous, even this one.” ~ Alexandre Dumas)

- traditionalists were born before 1946

- they faced myriad adversities during their formative years

- Great Depression

- World War II

- they grew up with clearly defined “rights” and “wrongs”

- the woman’s place was in the home, raising the children

- the man’s job was to provide for the family financially

- they came of age with the typewriter and radio

- baby boomers were born from 1946-1964

- they grew up during the new economy that followed World War II

- they feel very secure and optimistic

- they came of age during the shift from the golden age of radio to television

- and a move from the country into suburbia

- they learned values not just from their families

- but also from television and their neighbors

- their security allowed them to question the status quo

- leading to civil rights and women’s movements etc

- they came of age with the mainframe computer

- Generation X was born from 1965-1980

- they grew up during a time of uncertainty and turmoil

(civil rights, political scandal, inflation, and massive corporate layoffs)

- Dad and Mom were at work

- latchkey kids learned to be independent and resourceful

- their parents often got laid off and then divorced

- they’re skeptical about the way things are

- they’re more interested in working to live, rather than living to work

- 1st generation to emphasize work-life balance

- they came of age with personal computers

- millennials were born from 1981-1999

- they grew up during a time of unprecedented growth and prosperity

- they struggle on how to function in a world facing economic crisis

- raised by helicopter parents hovering over their every move

- parents and teachers said they can be whatever they want to be

- they’re very confident

- they experienced adversity via the media and 24-hour news coverage

- they’re very diverse and don’t understand the need for diversity training

- they came of age with smartphones

- Generation Z members were born from 1997 to unclear closing end (maybe 2012)

- don’t know life without the Internet

- they are confident, energetic, capable and passionate about changing the world

- they may lack healthy coping strategies, interpersonal skills, and relationship skills

- and have increased levels of anxiety and depression

- they came of age with smartphones and wearable technology like smart watches

Generational research overview

- people are a product of the stage of life or age they’re in

- the things that matter when we’re in our 20s, change in our 40s or 70s

- “period effect” considers that larger societal circumstances affecting us

(especially if they take place during the formative years)

- examples include the following:

- COVID-19 global pandemic will affect Generation Z

- Vietnam War affected baby boomers

- 9/11 affected millennials

- “cohort effect”

- when 1 generation experiences something that other generations haven’t

Generational communication strategy using a simple emotional intelligence framework

(outlined by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves in their book, Emotional Intelligence)

- self-awareness (step 1)

- involves the ability to understand one’s weaknesses and strengths

- with an understanding of the perspective one uses when interacting with others

- self-management (step 2)

- social awareness (step 3)

- the ability to relate to others such that one considers the other’s situation

- including their background and feelings before an interaction occurs

- relationship management (step 4)

- this involves putting it all together such that desired outcomes are achieved

Methods for working on the 4 processes of the generational communication strategy above

- step 1 involves recognizing your own generational bias (self-awareness)

- often difficult as it requires self-reflection

- usually not something done by high performing individuals in demanding careers

- open-minded approach to other people’s generational lenses required

- all generations assume their way is the right and also the best way

- best to look at each generation as not necessarily right or wrong

- they’re just different

- self-awareness can be broken down into 4 parts in some situations:

(1) pay attention to your physiologic response

- usually it’s a clue that something’s not going well in a conversation

- often linked to the fight/flight/freeze stress response

(2) name the emotion you are feeling

(3) ask yourself why are you feeling the emotion you are feeling?

(4) take a moment for reflection (usually after the fact)

- Questions to help understand one’s own generational bias

- Why do I have a problem with the older/younger generations?

- Why do I get frustrated when my boss doesn’t acknowledge my new ideas?

- What is it that bothers me about my coworker’s attitude

- such as their different emphasis on work-life balance

- Can I explain my point of view

- what is the benefit of “paying your dues?” for instance

- What role do I play in causing the tension between us?

- How can I change in order to take advantage of the generation opportunity

- and not increase the generation gap

- self-awareness is a skill that can be practiced

- 1 scenario to work through and name the emotions it brings forth

- You’re an attending at a large referral clinic presenting a case

- you look up to see an intern looking down at her phone

- as an attending clinician, how do you handle this?

- step 2 involves suspending your generational bias (self-management)

- generational biases are not based on facts they’re based on assumptions

- thus anything the other generations does or says must be wrong

- right vs wrong conversations can become emotionally charged

- there is a space between stimulus and response

- in that space one can choose how to respond

- self-management is getting into that space before responding

- strategies to get into that space include but are not limited to the following:

- tactical breathing provides the brain oxygen so frontal cortex can be engaged

(cycle is repeated as many times as necessary so feelings can be recognized)

- breathing in over a count of 4

- holding the breath for a count of 4

- exhaling to a count of 4

- holding the breath for a count of 4

- getting comfortable being uncomfortable

- staying curious; generations have much to learn from the other generations

- criteria to help stay curious:

- enter interactions with clear and open mind

- ask questions

- get used to the unfamiliar

- diversify interests

- allow yourself to be amazed by everyday things

- Assignments

- use an app for at least 10 days to work on your breathing

- do at least 1 thing each day that’s out of your comfort zone

- for instance, start a conversation with a complete stranger

- preferably from a different generation

- take a cold shower in the morning

- eat something you normally wouldn’t

- take a class doing something you’ve never done before

- listen to music the kids or nieces/nephews love but you don’t

- volunteer

- elementary school/middle school/high school

- senior living community

- step 3 involves learning how to speak other generational languages (social awareness)

- all generations want respect but the definition of respect differs among generations

- older generations

- want younger people to hold them in higher esteem than they do others

- and to defer to their perspectives

- younger generations

- they want to be held in esteem and have their opinions considered

- to affect the other generation, suspend bias and learn and use another language

- older generations can show respect by fielding younger people’s questions

- or considering their opinion

- younger generations can defer to older people’s wisdom and experience

- Assignment: watch these 2 videos of how generations speak different languages:

- step 4 involves building relationships across generations (relationship management)

- this is challenging for 2 main reasons

- pace of change in an information age has created a culture of busyness

(among all generations)

- smartphones etc have diminished the time available to be present

- and therefore to build meaningful professional relationships

- busyness and multitasking oppose to the skills needed to build rapport

- younger generations have spent much more time in a virtual world

- and less time developing face-to-face interpersonal skills

- like the art of asking good questions

- develop a coaching mindset (everyone wants a coach)

- 7 questions outlined in The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stainer

(these build effective relationships)

1) What’s on your mind?

2) And what else?

3) What’s the real challenge here for you?

4) What do you want?

5) How can I help?

6) If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?

7) What was most useful to you?

- Assignment to do with someone who is not a member of the same generation:

- come up with 5 additional questions in conversation


“Incorporating emotional intelligence theory into a generational communication strategy that includes recognizing bias, suspending that bias, learning to speak others’ languages, and building relationships fosters engagement among all team members and allows generational strengths and abilities to shine.”

Effective communication; Engagement; Generation; Relationship management; Self-awareness; Self-management; Social awareness; Veterinary medicine;

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