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.
I gave a talk yesterday to an HR group on how to recruit and retain our multigenerational workforce. The purpose is to bring awareness of our differences and events that have shaped us and influence how we view situations and our approaches to life. We bring all of these differences into our workplaces, which can often lead to conflict of some type. It also can bring presumptions and assumptions about others that will prevent us from accepting others ideas or ways of doing things.
If you’ve ever read anything about our generations, namely our two largest groups: the Baby Boomers and Gen Y’s, or Millennials, then you’ve most likely read that our younger workers have these beliefs about older workers being ‘too slow,’ they can’t embrace change, or they aren’t technology-savvy. While this may be true in some cases, it is not always. On the other side, Millennials are said to want things to go their way, can’t communicate and have no work ethic. Again, untrue for a good many of these young workers.
I had an interesting observation from an attendee that he finds his younger workers more tolerant of their older coworker than the older ones are. So it begs the question of who is more tolerant of the other generation: Boomers or Millennials? I think the issue is becoming less prevalent as it did several years ago but it does still exist.
Older workers may seem less tolerant as this generation was raised on ‘doing the right thing’ and may see younger workers as not following the rules or lacking a work ethic. Younger workers, due to the way they are taught and the increasing use of technology, have less tolerance for doing their work the same way or want to improve a process with the intent of making it easier, but don’t always go up the chain-of-command to get approval.
Bottom line – there is no one answer, nor should there be. When we understand our differences and begin to accept them, just as we would our parents, family members of our friends, then we can just view them as people. We can get to know them, their way of thinking and doing which can all lead to closer relationships and strong work bonds. This is the basis of high-performing teams so the work gets done in unity.
I encourage you to begin looking at your own biases of others you work with (or come across) and then finding ways to challenge and overcome them. If anything learned from this weekend’s mass shooting here in Orlando, is that an unwillingness to be accepting of others can lead to bad things – hates begets hate. It has made us here more open, more accepting and nicer to each other. ‘Orlando Love.’