How to Successfully Work with People from Different Generations
If you’ve read Dan Lyons’s book, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble (or if you’ve read any of the press surrounding it), you’ll know that Lyons believes there’s rampant ageism in the tech industry. As an older person, he feels isolated and out of place in a young work environment.
The flip side, of course, is that young people are often criticized for their alleged self-absorption, entitlement, and laziness.
It seems that the problem stems from a lack of understanding on both sides. And rather than pointing fingers, we should try to repair our relationships—ideally, by practicing patience, empathy, and respect. Wondering how to do that? Read on for more suggestions.
1. Ignore the Stereotypes
If you walk around expecting every member of a specific age group to behave a certain way, you’re going to hone in on the times they don’t live up to your expectations—and forget the times they do.
There’s only one way to counter our self-selective memories: by tossing our stereotypes out the window. This article from Harvard Business Review lists some common ones: “The Boomer mystified by Facebook; the Millennial who wears flip-flops in the office; the Traditionalist (born prior to 1946) who seemingly won’t ever retire; the cynical Gen Xer who’s only out for himself; and the Gen 2020er—born after 1997—who appears surgically attached to her smartphone.”
When you interact with people, consciously clear your brain of these kinds of generalizations. You might meet a Millennial who dislikes social media (they exist!) or a Boomer who’s addicted to adrenaline sports. But, unless you keep an open mind, you’ll only reaffirm your assumptions.
2. Be Flexible
Conflict between generations often creeps up because neither side will adapt. In a recent Forbes post, Jenna Goudreau describes a woman in her mid-fifties who was frustrated that her younger coworkers never called her back. If they missed her call, they’d send an email or a text.
She ended up screaming, “We need to stop emailing and pick up the %^$# phone!”
This situation could have been resolved far earlier (and with much less strife) if the coworkers had simply gotten together and discussed communication styles. To satisfy both parties, maybe they could have agreed to phone calls for in-depth conversations and emails for quick exchanges.
Whenever you’re frustrated with the way younger or older team members are doing things, you should be open about the issue—as well as prepared to make compromises.
3. Don’t Make Judgments or Cast Blame
Along similar lines, try not to deem generational styles or habits as “harmful” or “wrong.” Just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s bad.
For example, many (but not all, of course!) older employees have stayed at a single company for many years, while Millennials stick around for an average of 4.4 years.
Which attitude is right? Well, you could argue that remaining with your employer shows loyalty, gives you the opportunity to move up internally, and enables you to make a lasting impact. Yet you could also argue that frequently changing jobs lets you advance more quickly, make a higher salary, and find the best fit.
There isn’t a right answer—there are only different opinions. By remembering that fact, you can avoid generational clashes.
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