A lot has been written about marketing to different audience segments, from Gen Z to millennials to 50+, making me wonder whether what we really should be talking about is how to successfully communicate across generations. Or even the value of having relationships across generations. That got me thinking about my most powerful cross-generational relationship – with my grandfather, Abe.
Despite the fifty-three-year age difference, we formed one of the deepest connections I’ve ever had in my life. We grew up in different eras with different communication norms and yet somehow none of that mattered. The power of unconditional love certainly played a part but I also believe that at the root of it all, our relationship was as strong as it was because of the worth he placed on relationships and his understanding of how we make and keep human connections.
Through him I learned much of what I know today about the role communications plays in forming bonds that matter and also about living life – lessons that have stayed with me, in part because of how he communicated them to me, to this day. Here’s what he taught me on communicating and living a meaningful life.
1. Don’t just think positive, be positive.
I learned from Grandpa Abe that messages are received so much better when they are relayed in a positive manner because if you are kind and upbeat, people will want to spend time with you and listen to what you have to say. He always had a positive word or two to say and would bring a little bit of sunshine into the room with him.
2. Live this moment, be present and listen to every word.
While my grandfather enjoyed telling stories of yesterday, he was much more interested in today. He lived in the moment long before conversations about being present came to the forefront, delighting in whatever was happening and committing himself to always listening to every word.
3. Tell, or perhaps share, a good story.
Light up when you talk. Use compelling language. Reveal something personal. That’s the approach my grandfather took to storytelling. He was highly observant, noticing every detail of the world around him and would bring those details to life as he relayed everything from his daily routine to life’s lessons.
4. Know when to have a routine and when it is time for change.
Abe began his day with a bowl of corn flakes with raisins, an orange cut in quarters, two pieces of toast and coffee. Every morning. Same time. Every day. Then at the age of 90, he suddenly announced that he was bored with his breakfast and needed a change. Even at 90 he still was changing.
5. Put in an honest day’s work, which includes leaving something undone.
My Grandfather worked many jobs in his life and usually several at one time. While he always did a good job, he also made sure that when he headed out for the day there was another day’s worth of work left on his desk – and the desk of those who reported to him. There were simply too many other more important things to do with one’s time to spend it focused on things that could wait.
6. Savor the simple things.
I loved watching my Grandfather eat chocolate and frankly marveled at the way he did. He would buy a huge chocolate bar and cut off just one piece or two, take absolute delight in the taste and then put the rest away knowing tomorrow he’d do it all over again. Actually now that I think about it, maybe what he was really teaching me was the art of self control or a bit about the importance of discipline…
7. Spend time with those who matter to you.
I will never forget the relationship my Grandfather had with Sadie, my Grandmother, whom we called Nanny. The silent understanding, the absolute respect, the unwavering devotion. The relationship that began on a Bronx block was built over more than fifty-five years, with the last few spent by her side in a hospital and eventually a nursing home. Throughout the years, the joys and the sorrows, the way he looked at her, the way he was with her never changed. In fact it only deepened.
8. Important messages bear repeating.
The last time I visited my Grandfather I certainly never expected that he would have one more gift to give. He was clearly emotional and was very concerned that he be understood. He said to each of us multiple times that we were “his number one.” By repeating the message over and over, we got it. You see, to him, each one of us was his number one – the number one us. We each had a special place in his heart and he wanted to be sure each of us knew it.
And I think that is the biggest lesson of all. If we communicate from our heart, it may take a few times for the message to get through, but when it does, the impact will last forever.