Three Tips for Talking to Someone Younger (or Older) Than You

Faith Schiller, Associate Online Campus Pastor, Willow Creek | November 7, 2022

Have you ever noticed that connecting with someone from a different generation can be challenging? It seems like kids today only want to talk about TikTok, while older folks want to reminisce about the past. While these are gross generalizations, odds are, if you have tried to have a conversation with someone of a different generation, you have probably found yourself thinking, “I have no idea what they are talking about!”

While feeling disconnected from younger or older people can be frustrating, being in intergenerational relationships is so vital for our health, growth, and spiritual development. So how do we navigate connecting with people who belong to a different generation? 

Enter empathy. 

Empathy helps us understand people even when we don’t share a common experience. It displays a curiosity about others and allows us to cut through generational differences around culture, values, and even clothes! Instead of thinking about our choices or preferences, empathy allows us to focus on the other person and feel with them.

Here are three quick tips for cultivating empathy in intergenerational conversations:

1. Ask Curious Questions

If you ask someone how their day is going, odds are they will respond with, “Good.” That does not help us get to know someone better at all! Instead of asking simple questions, try infusing your questions with curiosity. Questions like, “What has been the best part of your day so far?” and “What are you most looking forward to about this weekend?” help show interest in another person and allow us to learn more about them!

2. Don’t Assume You Understand How They Feel

How we respond when someone shares something with us matters a lot. But sometimes, we can make assumptions about how someone feels based on how we would respond to the situation. But remember, empathy is about feeling with the other person. So, instead of assuming how the other person feels about a situation, ask. Replace phrases like, “Well, when I was your age…” and “Everything will work out…” with empathetic questions like, “How does that make you feel?” and “Help me understand why that is so important to you.”

 3. Remember Details

No one likes to be asked the same questions over and over again, so be intentional about remembering the details someone shares with you. Remembering things like their school classes, favorite sports team, grandkids’ names, or favorite TV show can go a long way in building trust in intergenerational relationships. But do not stop there. More than just recalling facts about someone, try to follow up on the emotions or thoughts you discussed in your last conversation. Try phrases like, “I remember you mentioned an event at school was coming up. How was that?” or “Last time we chatted, you said you felt sad. How are you feeling today?”

To hear more from Faith, visit her teaching from November here