That OTHER Generation is IMPOSSIBLE!!!!!!!!
One of my favorite team building exercises is to put people of the same generation together and have them describe the other generations. I have them make a list of the characteristics of the other generations, the strengths and the weaknesses, what most interferes with their own ability to work with the other generations, and what they admire about the other generation. There are frequently three different generations in the groups I work with these days. What I enjoy so much about these exercises are: 1) how similar the feedback is across different organizations; 2) how surprised and (frequently) outraged the generations are about how others see them; and 3) how important these conversations are to changing the way these folks look at and work with each other.
The three generations that co-exist today in most American workplaces are:
- Millennials- born between 1984 and 2002
- Gen X- born between 1965 and 1983
- Babyboomers- born between 1946 and 1964
Someone born in 1946 was born to parents traumatized by both the Depression and World War II. Someone born in 1966 was born to parents who were influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War and the Sexual Revolution. Someone born in 1986 was born to parents who were just getting used to computers, two-income families, PacMan and the beginning of CNN. Each generation is different from the other because of the influence of their parents’ experiences, the differences in their education, and the impact of different political and technology influences. Each generation thinks theirs is “the best.”
More important, though, each generation is trying to solve the same problems–create a home, have a meaningful life, feed and educate their kids, make the world a better place, care for aging parents (Millennials aren’t there yet). They believe that theirs is the correct way to do it, but they all are seeking similar goals. The similar goals are as important a common ground as the different ways are an area of disagreement.
The most important thing that comes out of the team building exercises that I do across generations is that each wants R.E.S.P.E.C.T. from the other. Real, genuine respect. Sometimes these exercises get quite heated–and it is almost always because they feel disrespected by the other generations (not even necessarily from the ones in the room, but from other encounters. These feelings are usually built up over years.) Respect isn’t possible if you continue to think that your generation’s way is the best. It is one way. It is based on what was going on when you hit maturity. It is not the ONLY way, though. If you had had the same issues/experiences/challenges as another generation, then you would likely have the same priorities and opinions of how it “should” be done.
Figure out how to appreciate the strengths of the other generations’ approach. I couldn’t do what I do if I didn’t have the Gen Ys to challenge me and the Millennials to help me with the constantly changing technology. They need me to give them a longer perspective that is tinged with wisdom. Although it would probably be more comfortable to be in an organization that includes only those who share the priorities and understandings that I have, it would be so BORING!