Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation
“Don’t try to dig what we all say!” preached The Who on behalf of Baby Boomers everywhere. But when we’re stuck with each other in our work lives- about 30% of our time- maybe we should try. With up to five generations in today’s workforce, understanding each other is a greater challenge than ever.
“They think they’re entitled…they want your job…no respect for authority…don’t value experience…aren’t willing to put in their time…don’t work as hard as we do…start telling you how to do it better their first day on the job!”
Yeah, they’re talking about you, you spoiled, self-centered, lazy Millennials!
Actually, that was what I heard in my first job, a really long time ago. Those were the words of The Greatest Generation, expounding on the Baby Boomers, or, as they called us- The End of the World as We Know It. Today they blame it on helicopter parents. Then, it was pretty much all Dr. Spock’s fault. Not the Star Trek guy, but the author of Child and Baby Care who first told our parents they didn’t need experts to tell them how to raise their own kids, then joined us at anti-war rallies.
“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly, all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.”
Archie Bunker? My grandfather? Your boss? No, that was Hesiod, somewhere around 750 BC. No one remembers how to pronounce his name, but his words still ring true. The Generation Gap has been around since the dawn of recorded history. Although I’m sure that the invention of the wheel met with some of the same comments:
“What? Carrying stuff is too good for these kids?! They’re so lazy!”
We’ve all got things we want to accomplish. Let’s dispense with this “End of The World” stuff and figure out how to work together. The key is communication. You know- where people exchange ideas and thoughts with each other and achieve some level of mutual understanding? Not to be confused with today’s greatest form of anti-communication, Internet Comments, where people scream at each other from the safety of their keyboards and no one exchanges anything but insults. It’s like having a debate with the drunk guy at the end of the bar and expecting to change his views.
Effective communication leads to better understanding and the possibility of seeing things from someone else’s perspective. Perhaps even leading to a change in our own. At best, effective communication helps us to understand that while we may not agree on how to skin a cat* (or the advisability of the idea to begin with), there is more than one way. In the work world, if we can find common goals, we can start talking about different ways to achieve them.
- Find common goals.
You work at the same place. Your business has goals. You have a vested interest in achieving those goals. What can you agree on? Fairness, treating others with respect, recognizing good contributions, taking responsibility? That there’s more to life than work, whether it’s family time or traveling or baseball?
- Divergence means different paths to the same ends.
I use a ranking of job characteristics to help people see where they differ and encourage them to use the results to understand each other. Different ≠ wrong. You may think spending 10 hours a day at work is the sign of an exceptional employee, but don’t be surprised if the millennial who left at 4PM sends you an email at midnight with the perfect solution to the problem you’ve been tackling while anchored to your desk.
- Ask questions that you don’t know the answers to.
Use open-ended questions, the kind that allow for a wide variety of responses, instead of the typical “yes/no” questions that limit answers and lead to the feeling of being grilled rather than asked.
- Listen- with the intention to understand, not to reply.
Most of us aren’t very good listeners. We hear some of what the other person is saying but it often devolves into Seinfeldian “yada yada yada” as our minds shift to planning our reply. A lot of good stuff and most of the important details are found within the yada yada yada. Listen to learn.
- Explain where you’re coming from.
Hopefully, the other person will reward your good communication behavior with their own and ask you questions, listen to your answers. Whether they do or not, be sure to share where you’re coming from.
- Brainstorm ways to creatively achieve goals; do things differently.
Be open to change. Don’t change just for change’s sake, but be open to it. What are some good changes that could lead to better results? If you have a sign that says “Because We’ve Always Done It That Way”, consign it to the garbage heap.
- Check your culture.
Who’s in charge? Chances are your company culture has been established by the current powers- most likely Boomers and Exers. Consider the benefits of some updates.
The more things change, the more things change. Let’s keep talking, and listening, to each other. We just might discover we have more than a few things in common.
*A cool alternative to “Skin a Cat”: TIMTOWTDI- “There is more than one way to do it”, a motto of the Perl programming language. Who’s cooler than a programmer?!