Generations expert, Amy Lynch speaks to audiences from associations to Fortune 100s, from marketers to managers and educators. No matter who the audience, the issue of cross-generational trust always enters the conversation.
According to Pew Research, one in five Millennials say most people can be trusted. In contrast, one in three Gen Xers assume most people are trustworthy. For half of all Boomers, the first impulse is to trust.
So, if a Millennial looks at you askance, remember it’s probably not personal (unless, of course you actually are a con). Meanwhile, if Xers or Boomers in your family have a different take on investments, brands or politics, the gap may have to do with trust, and it may be generational.
No matter what your job—delivery person, healthcare provider, business owner, school board member, salesperson, teacher, accountant or, in my case, keynote speaker -- we all have to overcome a certain amount of distrust from each generation, even our own. Here’s how.
Boomers: Doing the Right Thing Since . . . a long time ago
The most trusting (mind you, I’m not saying gullible) of the generations, Boomers have a not-so-secret longing to see the right thing done. The problem is that Boomers are terrifically polarized about what the right thing is. Exactly where is the high moral ground? On that hill or on this one?
This massive generation divided down the middle decades ago – evangelicals one side and new-agers on the other, peaceniks and hawks, left and right, rural and urban, yuppies and have-nots. So, your message if you want to win the trust of Booms, is something about doing the “right” thing — no matter where you stand.
How does that play out in your workplace, your industry, your community? Is doing the right thing a message you hear or deliver in daily life?
Gen X: This Works. Here’s Proof.
Generally acknowledged as the least trusting and most skeptical of generations, Gen Xers actually fall between Boomers and Millennials on the trust scale, revealing a soft spot in Gen X hearts that can, I've been told, show up in x-rays. Just kidding, but don’t let the cynicism fool you. Gen Xers want to believe in something that works. Works. That’s the key word.
Since they were kids, Xers have witnessed seminal events in which things did not work—the Challenger explosion, the oil crisis, the Dot-com bust, the Enron debacle, the 2008 crisis, and presidents who said they were not crooks or that they did not have (you get the idea), not to mention all those late-night ads for weird, plastic devices that promised to give you six-pack abs. Trust was risky.
Mostly, Xers just want to back a horse that can run.
That’s why they check you out so thoroughly online before they take meetings and why they show up to meetings with reams of research.
Get pragmatic when you need Gen X trust. Lean into data, measurable outcomes and complete transparency—not a bad idea when dealing with every generation, but essential to your relationships with 35- to 52-year olds. Even then, Gen X is likely to trust you, sort of, a little bit, and then verify.
Millennials: Off the Sidelines, into Alliances
The question of trust is complicated among Millennials and, for that matter, among all of us whose lives are documented online. Millennials are trusting of group consensus, whether that’s Yelp reviews, product review stars or likes on social media. Of course Millennials know those things can be faked or skewed, but peer networks still influence them (and all of us) toward trust. Overall, Millennials tend to trust the group to weed out bad Uber drivers, poor products and duplicitous messages.
So, can I trust you? Let’s see, how are you rated online? And then how do I prorate those ratings given the algorithms in play and the hackers who plant posts? Like I said, it’s complicated.
However, Millennials trust genuine allies. When they know you want to work with them—whether in business, in civic life or in the market place, this massive generation responds with cautious trust.
Alliances are the key. That means genuine conversation, authentic give and take, and group-verified experiences. How do you interact with Millennials? Do you prescribe or ask questions? Your answer reveals whether or not they trust you.
Speaking the language of trust is a little different for each generation. How does this play out in your work and in your life? Continue the conversation below, and don't forget to mention the generation you call home.