Seven Steps to Great Relationships with Intergenerational Clients

By Phyllis Weiss Haserot
When I began focusing on intergenerational issues in 2004 and started my monthly e-Tips in July of that year, it was sparked by an increase in questions and stories of frustration I received from clients and others about young professionals' shortcomings in communicating and working with clients older than they were. Then some Traditionalists told me their own stories about discomfort working with clients in their thirties and twenties.
From their concerns, it was clear to me the bottom-line issue was that they were concerned about causing client dissatisfaction and potentially losing significant current and future business.
It was also likely that many firms didn't even recognize that generational differences and challenges were responsible for the threat. I speculate that is true today as well.

Generational Definitions

Generations are defined by similar formative influences  social, cultural, political, and economic  that exist while individuals of particular birth cohorts are in their adolescent to early adult years. Given that premise, the approximate birth years for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are:

  • Traditionalists: Born between1925 and 1942
  • Baby Boomers: Born between 1943 and 1962
  • Generation X: Born between 1963 and 1978
  • Generation Y/Millennials: Born between 1979 and 1998
Given the significant danger of losing clients or not attracting new ones because of intergenerational issues, I've been helping firms and individuals understand and benefit from the generational influences and behaviors that secure relationships for business development and retention.
Here are seven ways to achieve rapport with clients of different generations, whether they're older or younger. (You can also see this as a Generational GPS Quick Tip on video.)
1. Don't have preconceived notions and make assumptions, especially stereotypical ones. Don't expect everyone to think and be influenced the same way. And don't think memorizing a list of typical generational attributes without knowing the influences and implications behind them will result in easy rapport.
2. Be respectful and avoid any appearance of arrogance. Much of arrogance is really insecurity. Appearing overconfident is often seen for what it is  the opposite. Respect paves the way for trust.
3. Ask questions and listen carefully. Show personal as well as professional interest. Listening is a great skill at any age. It's the best way to learn from interpersonal interactions, though careful visual observation is also valuable. Become a proficient questioner, asking the kinds of questions that not only provide opportunities to be informed, but also convey that the person you're conversing with is important to you and interesting.
4. Identify the client's professional and personal goals. These are likely to vary by individual as well as by generation, depending on where they fall on the career and life cycle spectrum.
5. Clarify business goals, and the impact of meeting or failing to meet those goals, with your client. This demonstrates that you're a serious professional eager to help the client succeed. It also helps the prospective client see and feel the implications of those goals at a deeper level.
6. Find interests beyond their business. Learn about their interests and passions through direct conversation and additional research. Here's a wonderful opportunity for engaging in cross-generational conversation to learn and surface the emotional drivers that are the often unrecognized keys to both sales and ongoing relationships.
7. Don't let tensions fester. If generational issues arise, discuss them, learn and agree on mutually satisfying resolutions. The best time to address and solve problems is as soon as they arise, avoiding building up resentments, frustrations, and erroneous assumptions or interpretations. Confronting potential problem areas quickly in a nonthreatening, civil way is a sign of maturity, confidence, and trustworthiness. (Also read my "5 Inter-Generational Stress-Busters" e-Tip.)
Put these tips to work for you and see your relationships blossom. For a more complete list, e-mail your request to
Read more generational articles by Phyllis Weiss Haserot. 
About the author:
Phyllis Weiss Haserot helps firms attract and retain clients of different generations and improve the working relations of their multigenerational teams, including knowledge transfer. She is president of Practice Development Counsel and a recognized expert on workplace intergenerational challenges. She is the author of The Rainmaking Machine and The Marketer's Handbook of Tips & Checklists (both Thomson Reuters/West 2012). Reach her at or View her YouTube videos at her Generational GPS channel.
© 2013 Phyllis Weiss Haserot. All rights reserved.

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