On the Cusp: Understanding Those Caught Between Two Generations

There are a few objections to the generations topic that we hear over and over again. "Aren't you just stereotyping?" and "I think this is just life stage," along with the very common, "this doesn't apply to me—I fall between two generations." This is a valid point, and we actually have a name for those that straddle two generations. But first, some context.

At BridgeWorks, when we study, speak, and consult on five distinct generations, we break the birth years down as follows:

  • Traditionalists, born prior to 1946
  • Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964
  • Generation X, born between 1965 and1979
  • Millennials, born between 1980 and 1995
  • Gen Edge, born between 1996 and 2010

The events and conditions we experience in our formative years have a profound effect on who we are today, which often begs the question we're asked so often, “What if I was born between two generations?” It's a great question, and we find that sometimes these people don’t identify specifically with one generation or another and can feel a bit left out of the generational conversation.

Enter Cuspers.

When the BridgeWorks founders published When Generations Collide: Who They Are. Why They Clash. How to Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work, they dove into the subject in a chapter they called "Cusper the Friendly Ghost."

Simply put, “Cusper” is a term that references a person born on the cusp of two different generations. Why refer to them as "friendly ghosts?" Well, Cuspers can sometimes feel like they don't have a part in the generational conversation. Because they share values and traits with the two generations they're sandwiched between, they incorrectly believe that the topic of generations doesn't apply to them.

Consider this:

A Baby Boomer/Generation X Cusper born in 1965 may not have strong memories of the Vietnam War and it’s effect on the nation, but they were affected by such events as the oil embargo and Watergate.

A Generation X/Millennial Cusper born in 1979 may, in fact, remember a time before their family home had a microwave, but they had an email account by the time they reached college.

As a result, we have a segment of the population that isn’t quite sure where they “fit.”

“The numbers say I’m a Baby Boomer, but I feel I identify with Generation X. WHAT AM I?!” We hear sentiments like this all the time. Never fear, Cuspers; you play an integral part in the generational conversation.

Our research shows that Cuspers are strong mediators and are often able to see generational clashes from the perspective of two generations in a way that others often cannot. They serve as translators, peacemakers, and troubleshooters. Their ability to act as generational liaisons can be invaluable to organizational communication.

Take for example this story:

Jessica, a Millennial, and her Gen X boss were on a conference call with a client. After the call, Jessica’s boss turned to her and said, “You couldn’t just sit there and listen for 20 minutes. Why do you feel the need to constantly interject? What is it with your generation?!”

Jessica left the meeting feeling pretty deflated. She had thought she'd done the right thing in speaking up and sharing her voice and ideas during the call. She went to her mentor, who is 35, right on the cusp of Generation X and Millennials. After describing what had happened, her mentor was able to use her Cusper perspective to effortlessly explain what it was that annoyed Jessica’s Xer boss, how to handle those situations in the future, and what she could do now to smooth things over.

Jessica told us that it completely changed the way she viewed what had transpired between her and her boss, and it shaped their future interactions for the better.

So, fear not Cuspers. While you may not always know which generational box to check, know that you play a very important role in bridging generational divides.