- Next trainer development cohort 10th - 14th June 2024

Comms tips for a multi-generational workplace

3rd May, 2024

Comms tips for a multi-generational workplace

As I was commuting to my office this morning, a young man trod on my foot with his size 12 Nikes.


As he turned round to apologise, I blurted out ‘Sorry!’


What is wrong with me?!  This British curse of politeness is frankly ridiculous at times.


But I’m fascinated by the whole concept of courtesy and how it can – used properly – create connections.


(Not so-called polite emails like ‘Sorry to bother you, but did you have a chance to read my email, but if not no worries, I’m sorry for even existing!’ ????, which don’t work.)


I’m digging deep into politeness for the next edition of my book, Email Attraction.


I’ve learnt Stanford scientists Brown and Levinson uncovered different types of politeness, including ‘positive face’ and ‘negative face’.


When we appeal to someone’s positive face, we make them feel good about themselves.


Negative face, on the other hand, is about respect, not overstepping people’s boundaries and giving them freedom and autonomy.


Boomers and Gen Xers like me tend to care more about negative face.  


So if you want to get us on side, try using deferential phrases like ‘I know this is a busy time for you so I’ll keep this meeting short’ or ‘You’re the expert here of course…’


Gen Zers and millennials, on the other hand, appreciate positive face more – compliments like ‘I like the way you’ve approached this topic’ or ‘Your point about diversity is important’


The problem with generalisations, of course, is that they are generalisations. But think about different types of politeness if you work in a multi-generational workplace.


Which type of politeness do you respond best to?  I’d love to know.  (But of course, no problem if you don’t have time, I completely understand thank you!)

University of Cambridge


- Next trainer development cohort 10th - 14th June 2024

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