Home The Ultimate RelationshipBusiness & Leadership 5 Easy Ways to Overcome the Battle of the Generations in the Workplace

5 Easy Ways to Overcome the Battle of the Generations in the Workplace

written by Laura Dabney, M.D. May 4, 2020
5 Easy Ways to Overcome the Battle of the Generations in the Workplace

While the battle of the sexes wages on in the workplace, there’s another skirmish brewing under the radar and wreaking havoc on workplace relationships: the battle of the generations.

Millennials often struggle to effectively communicate, connect, and collaborate with Boomers and Generation Xers. And why not? There are significant differences between the groups.

But what happens when different people can’t find ways to bridge the gap? Dysfunction and distrust. And a dysfunctional work environment puts social dynamics and office politics center stage over the important work to be done. Change the dynamic causing dysfunction and distrust, and you’ll see productivity and work satisfaction increase.

Overcome Conflict with Your Colleagues

If you’re a Millennial who “just can’t” with your older colleagues, try these quick hacks to improve your cross-generational working relationships and boost your overall job satisfaction.

1. Like it or not, Boomers and Gen Xers have a leg up when it comes to experience. Acknowledge it, praise it, and use it.

Sure, you’ve got skills they don’t, but they’ve been in the industry longer, which means they know things only time and trial and error can impart. They know what has and hasn’t worked in the past: “We’ve tried that a few times and received very negative feedback.” They know how best to work with other veteran employees and partners: “She’s rarely on email. It will work better if you call her.” They can even provide valuable input on how to reach people from their generation, which can be hugely helpful for Millennials in marketing and sales: “Boomers need to feel respected first. Then, they’ll buy.”

Bottom line: ask their opinion. Need insight on the industry? Can’t get ahold of that super busy exec? Want to try out your pitch on a real person? Pick their brain. You’d be a fool not to use their expertise to your benefit, and if they feel respected for their assets, they’ll be more likely to respect yours.

2. You see that device in your hand? ICYMI, it does more than text and email.

We’ve all seen words get lost in translation via text and email. It just goes to show how much we humans rely on body language and vocal tone for context. When the inevitable miscommunication happens, there’s an easy (and often overlooked) fix: take the convo LIVE.

If there’s a breakdown in communication, if there’s a moderately complex issue to discuss or if there’s conflict to resolve, do it over the phone — by calling. Even better, have the discussion face to face (or over Skype if you work remotely). It’s amazing how much tension you can diffuse with a calm voice and warm body language.

Bonus: Having in-person conversations with older employees can actually improve your interpersonal communication skills — something many Millennials lack. Think of it like a trade: you can teach them what ICYMI means and they can teach you something about professional interactions.

3. Don’t: Show exasperation with their lack of technical abilities. Do: Kindly offer to help. Do: Allow them to decline your offer.

I know, I know… it takes them, like, ten years to locate the “Submit” button, let alone figure out how to set up a video conference call. It’s easy to become frustrated, but these moments call for empathy. Imagine doing things one way for your entire career, and suddenly, having to adopt an entirely new method with new, super foreign tools. Plus, the benefits of technology only exist if you know how to use it properly — otherwise, tech is an obstacle to productivity. You know how frustrated you feel when your WIFI mysteriously cuts out, right? Well, that’s how these people feel all day long, and all the while, people are watching them fumble along. Ugh.

The temptation is high to take over, grab their mouse, and “drive.” You may be frustrated, and that’s ok. But try to also find the part of you that empathizes, and then offer sincere and patient help. “Would you like me to show you how to do that more quickly?” or “I’d be more than happy to help if you’d like.” If they decline your offer, don’t take it personally.

Can’t sit around to watch the paint dry? Get up, grab a cup of coffee, and return in a few minutes.

4. Uncover common ground.

Maybe you like the same classic rock band, you both watch Game of Thrones, or you both like traveling — whatever it is, find something you have in common, and build a relationship on that.

And let’s say you’ve tried to find something in common and there’s nothing. That’s ok! Find out what they love and take an interest. Maybe they like fishing, for example. Ask them about it. Where do they go, what kind of fish, what kind of bait? Believe it or not, discussing their interests can provide years of small talk and builds strong rapport.

Another option: ask them to mentor you in a shared responsibility. Like I said above, it doesn’t hurt to use their experience to your benefit. Find common ground in the business because goodness knows, you should have the business’s best interest in common.

Whichever avenue you choose, you can be sure that building relationships builds trust, and trust is the foundation of any working relationship.

5. But don’t compare them to your parents…too much.

When you’re trying to find common ground with the person, make it more about you and less about your parents. It’s natural to see similarities between older employees and your folks. They probably like similar music, watch the same TV shows, and share perspectives on life, but keep the comparisons to yourself. Too many comments like, “Oh! My mom likes that too…” or “You remind me so much of my Dad,” can make for awkward conversations with someone who is supposed to be your peer.

There you have it! These five hacks are easy things you can implement tomorrow and see instant results. And keep in mind: while you and your Gen X and Boomer colleagues may approach the workplace differently, your goals are probably similar: do valuable (and valued) work.

Have you experienced chronic, dysfunctional work relationships? There may be a deeper emotional issue at play. Contact us today for a free consultation and get on the right path toward greater career satisfaction.

Dr. Laura Dabney

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