I saw an ad on late nite TV last night for a pharmaceutical promoted as critical to help men’s health as they age. The patient was an older white man, and the doctor (also a man) was African American.
According to a recent article by Ronald Brownstein in the National Journal Magazine, “The Gray and the Brown: The Generational Mismatch, this casting is an accurate representation of the future. According to the article,
From one direction, racial diversity in the United States is growing, particularly among the young. Minorities now make up more than two-fifths of all children under 18, and they will represent a majority of all American children by as soon as 2023…
At the same time, the country is also aging, as the massive Baby Boom Generation moves into retirement. But in contrast to the young, fully four-fifths of this rapidly expanding senior population is white.
Brownstein reflects on this as a source of conflict: “In an age of diminished resources, the United States may be heading for an intensifying confrontation between the gray and the brown”
But what if it was the exact dynamic that would make everyone jump up and say “we all need intercultural communications training…NOW!” And why now?
A look at small business marketing may help. When a business owner thinks of his/her “elevator speech,” the 30 second encapsulated description of his/her business, the advice is to go for the pain.* What is the pain your client feels and how does your company heal it—that’s how you get someone hooked
Until now, perhaps majority white populations haven’t collectively felt the pain. But an aging population dependent on younger, diverse caregivers may shift that balance.
I always refer to my 79-year-old white dad as my “single person focus group.” When I explained my work in intercultural competence and communications, he would say “that’s nice, for those who need it, but not integral to success of a business.”
Yet when he recently was in a rehab center after a fall, he called me. “Can you give me some of your tips on Intercultural Communications?” he asked. “I’m realizing it’s critically important for me to connect to the (majority African American) people helping me here.” From the physical therapist to the nurses to the person delivering his meals, “If I connect with them I feel better, and I recover more quickly.”
Suddenly he realized the critical need for intercultural competence because he felt the pain. Understanding when “the difference makes a difference” or recognizing direct vs. indirect communications styles, helped. “You’re a genius” he said at the end of our “lesson.”
So federally mandated Cultural Competence Training for all seniors? Ultimately it takes “two to tango” and it always works better when both ‘sides’ of a conversation have facility in recognizing and understanding the influence of culture on different communication styles.
But why not? As I sit at the precipice of being an old white woman, and it’s more authentic to say “here’s what I can do” rather than “here’s what you can do to serve me” (ah, if only it worked that way!) and 2.) The person feeling the “pain” is the one with the most impetus to start.
What do you think? Are we headed for doom, or opportunity, as gray meets brown?
*Sign up for the free American Family Insurance Business Accelerator Program for access to the free webinar “Refining Your Elevator Pitch and Taking Your Business to the Next Level.”