I recently found myself feeling offended when a young person I know, and dance with weekly, questioned why I was still out later in the evening. When I asked him why he questioned this, he said “I’m young….” not going any further. I don’t think he realized how offensive his comments were in what he was implying. I wonder how many of us do this on a daily basis without realizing the impact these types of comments can have.
No sooner can unfiltered statements create issues than in the workplace and interacting closely with a diverse group. An off-handed comment can really upset someone and can lead to a host of problems and poor working relationships. I saw this in the classroom years ago with a graduate class I was teaching, of which three generations were present. A Baby Boomer referred to her younger coworkers as ‘those kids’ followed by a negative example of something they did/didn’t do.
Her younger peers then shot back with their example of how an older peer couldn’t get a ‘simple’ computer command to which she took offense. I literally had to intervene and reset the tone for the class but I think this can show that while we may have good intentions, our words – and tone- can turn them into a detriment. Hard feelings can result, which can turn into not wanting to interact or work with that person, and can then lead to poor team performance.
The next time you say something, take time to think about how your are saying it, what your body language is conveying, or if it needs to be said at all. Use the mirroring technique to reflect back what you heard as this can affirm if what you heard was correct or to get clarification. If you take offense, check yourself as to why, i.e. not wanting to be boxed in to a specific attribute, feeling categorized as ‘too young’ or ‘too old,’ etc. These can help to begin breaking down those biases for better interactions.