Cultivating an Awareness of Generational Differences for Effective Communication

By A. Embry Burrus and Laura B. Willis
Authors of Professional Communication in Speech Language Pathology: How to Write, Talk, and Act Like a Clinician, Third Edition


Popular literature is filled with descriptions of the term, “generational differences,” and for good reason. There are distinct differences among individuals based on when they were born, and the political, social, and economic environment in which they have grown up. This post will address the various communication styles of individuals who are currently in the workforce. Although there are differences among the generations, according to the Center for Creative Leadership, there are also similarities; namely, most people have the same basic core values: “family, integrity, achievement, love, competence, happiness, self-respect, wisdom, balance and responsibility.”

The Millennial Generation, born between 1982 and 1994 (estimate), represents a cohort distinct from their parents of the Baby Boom generation (1945–1964 [estimate]), and their predecessors, Generation X (1961–1981 [estimate]). Millennials have been generally described as optimistic, team-oriented, high-achieving rule-followers. In addition, aptitude test scores for this group have risen across all grade levels, and with the higher aptitude has come a greater pressure to succeed. It is noteworthy to mention that Millennials are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history. As of 2012, individuals of Hispanic origin accounted for 26.9% of the 21-and-under population (, and Asians accounted for 25.6%. Interestingly enough, this generation has been described as more accepting of diversity than past generations.

Research has shown that children of the Millennial Generation were encouraged to “befriend” their parents, as well as their parents’ friends, and as teens they became comfortable expressing their opinions to adults; therefore, they are not hesitant to challenge authority, assert themselves, or ask for preferential treatment. Studies have shown that Millennials view strong relationships with supervisors to be a crucial factor in their satisfaction with their role as supervisee, and that they expect communication with supervisors to be frequent, positive, and affirming.

In today’s society, we are taught that to be successful, we need to be self-confident. Some of the characteristics assigned to the Millennials are that they are self-assured, assertive, and perfectionistic, which, when used constructively, can be very positive attributes. It is important that Millennials are aware that to members of the older generations, this can sometimes be misconstrued as overconfidence. If a supervisor or colleague perceives you to be overconfident, this could create a number of opportunities for miscommunication and misunderstanding. You do not want to communicate to others that you have more ambition than skill, or that you already “know it all” and therefore do not need or want their input. We often advise our students to be mindful that if they are perfectionists, they should not allow this to morph into fear of failure. We remind them that it is okay to admit that they do not know something, and it is much better to do so than to seem falsely competent.

Members of Generation X, the cohort immediately preceding the Millennials, were shaped by many factors. Generation Xers learned independence, autonomy, and self-reliance early in life. They were the first to be described as “latch-key” kids, and they often took care of themselves and their siblings. They grew up in a time when divorce was commonplace, and therefore ended up in single-family or blended-family homes. As a result, they have been described as being more accepting of themselves and others, and embracing of diversity. Members of this generational cohort have been described as valuing flexibility and creativity, as well as encouraging of individualism.

According to Jean Scheid (2010), “Gen Xers aren’t afraid of technology and love new gadgets, even if it takes a little longer than a Millennial to understand how it all works. Their communication style is one brief and to the point, and e-mail is their preferred method.” Gen Xers desire feedback from supervisors and do not hesitate to offer feedback in return. On the other hand, if not kept in the loop, they may become upset and feel left out.

The “Boomers,” as they are often referred to as, make up approximately 29% of the U.S. population and 50% of the workforce. The oldest members of the Baby Boom generation are now mostly retired, and in less than 15 years, one in five Americans (the youngest members) will be over the age of 65. Those who were born at the end of this generational cohort (1960–1964), however, are still a large part of the workforce and may still embody some general characteristics used to describe this group: focused on hard work, ambitious, competitive, and believers in equality.

To summarize, it is important to always show respect by communicating clearly and demonstrating that you acknowledge what your communication partner feels is important, regardless of position or age difference. This does not mean that individuals across the generations cannot understand each other, or learn from each other; it simply means that we must take into consideration that we may have different ways of looking at the same issue. Being part of a diverse workplace may be challenging to some, yet it can provide an environment that fosters rich personal as well as professional growth.


Deal, J. (2015). Ten principles for working across generations [Podcast]. Center for Creative Leadership. Retrieved from

Schied, J. (2010). Types of communication styles: Bridging the communication gap. Bright Hub. Retrieved from

U.S. Census Bureau. (2012). Current Population Survey, 2012 Annual Social and Economic (ASEC) Supplement. Washington, DC: Author.


Speech-Language Pathologists Climbing the Steps to Mastery


Speech-Language Pathologists Climbing the Steps to Mastery
By Lydia Kopel
Co-author of IEP Goal Writing for Speech-Language Pathologists: Utilizing State Standards

Facing the mountain
As a speech-language pathologist (SLP), you are forever tackling a huge mountain called language. There are peaks at the top that you are trying to help your students/clients reach. Do you ever find yourself working on a skill with a student/client who does not seem to be making progress? That peak didn’t seem so far away, but along the way, you encounter twists and turns, making it around one corner only to face an obstacle around the next bend. Frustrating, right? On the inside you’re screaming, “Why can’t he get this? How can I approach this in a different way? What am I doing wrong?”

You’ve set your goal(s) for this individual carefully choosing the target skill(s). But, did you think about prerequisite skills? Prerequisite skills are all the skills that lead up to the targeted skill; the building blocks. Every skill has several prerequisite skills; each prerequisite skill has prerequisite skills. With language learning there is a great deal of scaffolding – one skill builds upon another skill, builds upon another skill, and so on. Let’s look at an example related to the skill of the main idea.

To be able to identify the main idea when it is not stated in a text, one has to have success with many other language skills. These include being able to answer factual questions, determine important details from unimportant details, determine how the details go together in the sequence of events, and be able to draw inferences. Of course, each one of these skills has even more prerequisite skills! And it doesn’t end there!

Each target skill also has several steps to mastery. With the same example of the main idea, we probably shouldn’t expect that a 6th grade student will learn the prerequisite skills outlined above and be able to identify the main idea and supporting details from a grade level text in one year. It is more likely that additional scaffolding and instruction will be needed at various steps. The student may first need to identify a supporting detail when given a choice of three and given the main idea in a 5th grade text. Maybe then you can move them to identifying three details that support a given main idea in a 5th grade text. With further scaffolding, this student may move toward identifying the details in a 6th grade text when the main idea is unknown. Going through these prerequisite skills and steps to mastery can increase an individual’s success and decrease therapist and client frustration—making for a much smoother climb up that language mountain.

Peaks and valleys
We all encounter those individuals who have splinter skills.   They have some of the language skills in the developmental continuum but are missing others. There may be no specific order, no rhyme or reason, to what they can and cannot do. If we can tap into the skills that haven’t fully developed, we can help increase performance on the target skills that are lacking.

Let’s look at the semantic skill of compare/contrast. Perhaps you have a client who can label pictures of nouns and verbs. He can tell you the color, size, and shape of single pictured items. He may be able to use comparatives and superlatives. However, he can’t sort items by attribute, identify things that do not belong, or state category labels. His describing skills are limited because he breaks down when more than one item is pictured together in a scene and more than two descriptors are expected.  Would it be reasonable to expect this client to state how two or more items are the same or different? It seems like there may be numerous gaps in his semantic skills that would be imperative to the skill of compare/contrast.

Reaching the peak
As an SLP, do you have students/clients who are lacking some of the necessary prerequisite skills? Taking the time to figure out what prerequisite skills are needed can lead to success with the target skill(s).   Take a step back and work on the missing skills. Sometimes we need to go backward in order to move forward.

When setting goals, consider the amount of prerequisite skills needed and how fast you anticipate the student to progress. Is your anticipated target skill too high? Maybe you need to aim for a smaller peak. Maybe the goal needs to be one of the prerequisite skills. Take it one step at a time and you’ll soon find the individual standing at the peak.

Prerequisite skills, goal writing, and much more are discussed and outlined in the book IEP Goal Writing for Speech-Language Pathologists:  Utilizing State Standards. Check it out!

Please visit our blog Living the Speech Life and feel free to contact us at

Lydia Kopel and Elissa Kilduff

Living the Speech Life

Nasal Emission Terminology Should be Evidence Based and Consistent with Physiology and Perceptual-Acoustic Characteristics

Nasal Emission Terminology Should be Evidence Based and Consistent with Physiology and Perceptual-Acoustic Characteristics (1)David J. Zajac, PhD, CCC-SLP, ASHA Fellow

Coauthor of Evaluation and Management of Cleft Lip and Palate: A Developmental Perspective

The term “cleft palate speech” has often been used to refer to hypernasality, nasal air emission, reduced oral air pressure, and compensatory articulations of speakers who exhibit velopharyngeal inadequacy (VPI). Hypernasality is defined as excessive resonance of the nasal cavity during production of vowels and voiced consonants. Nasal air emission refers to the audible escape of air during the production of high-pressure oral consonants, especially voiceless consonants. Reduced oral air pressure is the flip side of nasal air emission. When air escapes through the nose, some oral air pressure is lost. Thus, oral pressure consonantsespecially voiceless ones—may be produced with reduced oral air pressure and perceived as weak or reduced in intensity. Compensatory articulations are maladaptive gestures that are produced at the glottis or in the pharynx as a way to circumvent a faulty velopharyngeal valve. The use of glottal stops to replace oral stops is a classic example of a compensatory articulation. Hypernasality, nasal air emission, and reduced oral air pressure are passive (or obligatory) symptoms of VPI. This means that the symptoms occur as a direct consequence of incomplete velopharyngeal closure. Compensatory articulations, however, are active (or learned) behaviors and may not occur in every individual.

Although obligatory nasal air emission is a core characteristic of VPI, many confusing, overlapping, and inaccurate terms have been used to describe its perceptual manifestation. The literature is replete with terms such as audible nasal air emission, nasal turbulence, nasal rustle, and passive nasal frication. Because the velopharynx and nasal passage are complex anatomical structures— which may be significantly altered due to both congenital defects and surgical interventions associated with cleft lip and palate—the variety of terms used to describe nasal air emission should not be too surprising. Numerous other terms have been used to describe nasal air emission that is part of active (or learned) nasal fricatives and will not be discussed here. The reader is referred to Zajac (2015) for a discussion of active nasal fricatives as an articulatory error. Rather, this article will focus on terminology used to describe passive or obligatory nasal air escape.

A Brief History of Current Terminology

McWilliams, Morris, and Shelton in the first and second editions of Cleft Palate Speech (1984, 1990) described nasal air emission as occurring along a continuum. First, it could be visible but inaudible, detectable only by holding a mirror under the nostrils of a speaker to see fogging as a result of the air emission. In such a case, the nasal airflow is laminar, moving in relatively smooth fashion, and does not become turbulent, or noise producing. Clinically, visible nasal air emission typically occurs in speakers who have adequate but not complete velopharyngeal closure and normal resonance. Although visible nasal air emission should be noted when it occurs in a speaker, there are no treatment implications. Continue reading

Healing Voices

Healing Voices (1)By Leda Scearce, MM, MS, CCC-SLP author of Manual of Singing Voice Rehabilitation: A Practical Approach to Vocal Health and Wellness

Singing is a part of virtually every culture and is fundamental to our human experience. In the United States, singing is enormously popular, as evidenced by the vast number of people engaged in all kinds of singing activities. Over 30 million Americans participate in choral singing alone (Chorus America, 2009). Shows such as The Voice, America’s Got Talent, and American Idol illustrate how passionate we are about singing. From the amateur recreational singer to the elite celebrity, we sing as soloists and in ensembles, with instruments and a cappella, in classical and contemporary styles, on stage, in concert, and in the shower.

Every person’s voice is unique and identifiable, and our voices can be a big part of our identity and how we see ourselves in the world. This is especially true for singers, for whom the voice is not only intricately tied to self-image and self-esteem but also may be a source of income and livelihood, creative expression, spiritual engagement, and quality of life. For a singer, a voice injury represents a crisis. Because of the specialized needs of singers, it takes a team—including a laryngologist, speech-language pathologist, and singing voice rehabilitation specialist—to get a singer back on track following an injury or voice disorder. Singing voice rehabilitation is a hybrid profession, requiring in-depth clinical and scientific knowledge married with excellence in teaching singing.

Voice problems are rarely isolated in etiology—usually multiple factors converge to create an injury. These factors may include poor vocal hygiene, inadequate vocal technique, an imbalance in vocal load and medical problems (allergies and reflux are common in singers, but thyroid, pulmonary, neurologic, and rheumatologic conditions are among the illnesses that may affect the voice). The singing voice rehabilitation process must encompass all elements that may be contributing to the problem: medical factors, vocal hygiene, vocal coordination and conditioning, vocal pacing, and emotional factors. Continue reading

The Ineffectiveness of Checklists in Diagnosing Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)

Margaret_Fish  Fish_HHTCASE2E_low res

By Margaret Fish, MS, CCC-SLP, author of Here’s How to Treat Childhood Apraxia of Speech, Second Edition

Sorting through evaluation findings for young children with complex speech sound disorders can be confusing and challenging. As SLPs we strive to complete thorough evaluations and make sense of our evaluation findings to achieve an accurate diagnosis; however, many of the characteristics of CAS overlap with other types of speech sound disorders. Certain key characteristics from a CAS checklist such as inconsistency, atypical prosody, groping, or vowel errors may raise red flags for a diagnosis of CAS, but these characteristics alone should not predetermine the diagnosis until a thorough analysis of the child’s speech productions is completed.

Following are case studies of two children recently seen for consultations. Both children had an incoming diagnosis of CAS, but only one child was given a definitive diagnosis of CAS at the conclusion of the consultation. The other child demonstrated a number of characteristics commonly associated with CAS, but after careful examination of the child’s speech, the underlying nature of the challenges was not consistent with the core impairment of CAS that ASHA (2007) describes as the “planning and/or programming (of) spatiotemporal parameters of movement sequences.”

Case Study 1.

Mark, age 3 years, 7 months, had recently received a diagnosis of CAS by a diagnostic team at a local hospital. The diagnosis was based primarily on the following factors:

  • Reduced speech intelligibility (judged to be 50% intelligible)
  • A nearly complete repertoire of consonants and vowels
  • Inconsistent productions of the same word
  • Occasional vowel errors
  • Atypical speech prosody

Because of Mark’s limited speech intelligibility, inconsistency, vowel errors, and prosody differences, it was understandable how a diagnosis of CAS was made, as these characteristics often are associated with a positive diagnosis of CAS. Indeed, the use of a checklist of CAS characteristics alone could lead a clinician to conclude that Mark had CAS.

Continue reading