As spring break approaches, I find myself thinking about young people. As a coach, I hear complaints about younger generations all the time.
Too many of us older folks have an autopilot way of judging younger generations. We’re stuck in a negative paradigm when it comes to this topic.
And that doesn’t serve us well. Because when we get caught up in a particular mental model, we assume existing impressions are correct. Which means we’re unlikely to make productive effort to improve our understanding, try new methods, or grow.
And where does that leave us? In the land of zero progress.
Love ’em or not, these younger generations aren’t going anywhere before you do. So it’s time to break our paradigms and focus on moving forward. Doing this will change
- Our perspective
- Our ability to motivate and engage young people
- Our effectiveness as leaders
How to do it? By getting intentional about really understanding how young people see things – rather than focusing on how they see things differently than you do.
But that’s easier said than done.
Fortunately, there’s a step you can take today that will make worlds of difference.
How to Grow Your Understanding of Younger Generations:
As spring break approaches, I think about the younger generation. Just because I associate them, I guess, with spring break, for obvious reasons.
And as a coach, I’m hearing all the time from clients in their 40s, 50s, 60s, complaints about either the Millennial Generation, the younger generation, Generation X, Gen Y, or whatever latest term they’ve heard is applied to that generation.
I want to suggest to my clients, and to you, that when it comes to the younger generation – or judging workers in the younger generation, or college students at spring break, or whatever it happens to be, the term Millennial, you name it – you are forming paradigms. You are forming mental models. In this case, negative ones.
“They’re not resilient.”
“They have a low work ethic.”
“They’re not serious.”
Too many of us 40 – 70 (and I’m 70 plus), focus on judging and talking to instead of listening to.
The issue is not what generation someone is in. The issue is, what are their attributes? What are their traits? How do you get insights?
Well, you listen to them, and you watch them to see how they see things. Not just how you see things and why they are seeing them different (different usually means wrong in that case).
We hang around talking to our golf buddies, our coworkers, our neighbors, friends our age at cocktail parties, people like us.
Instead, hang out near the younger generation: college students at spring break, younger workers. Listen to them.
The next time you’re talking to a young desk clerk when you check in to a hotel: “What do you like about your job?”
The next time you have a young server taking care of you at a restaurant: “What lights up your day?”
The next time you’re on the golf course with a caddy: “What have you observed about people?”
Those are just a few of the hundreds of questions you could be asking.
The point is to listen, not for content, so much as for revelation of their attributes. They are, just like all of us, revealing them consistently.
Let me give you an example:
Recently, about a year ago, around spring break time, I was at a party. Mostly older folks, but there were a bunch of college students there, most of them with their parents and/or their friends. And they were hanging around at the same party. Very big home.
And I noticed, it made me smile, that it was like when I was in grade school with the first boy/girl parties, and the boys went to one side of the room and the girls went to the other. The older folks went to one part of the room. Then, the middle aged folks were in another part. And the younger people were in the other part. So I just went over to them and just hung out. I didn’t try to break in to their group at all.
By the end of the evening, 4 of them, separately, had cycled in and out of conversation with me for quite a long time. And the entire conversation was about them. I just asked questions. Believe me, I learned a lot.
I have had many clients try what I’m describing to you and give excited feedback about new perspective they gained about how others see the world. These could be customers, these could be employees they are working with, colleagues that they are working with, suppliers, you name it.
For example, you are going to find – I see it all the time – you are going to find, and I’ve had clients find that one person wants to absolutely do what they love. That’s all that matters to them. And their manager is talking to them all the time about how much more money they will make if this or that project is successful – not even considering the fact that that’s not at all a prime motivator to them.
Another manager learned that one of his people that is very valuable to him, flex time was extremely important to her. She had 2 small children; she was a single mom. And he was talking to her all the time about getting promoted.
So think, observe, listen, tune in to the other person.
We see the world the way we are. People don’t see the world the way you do.
My message to my clients is the same as I am giving this message to you:
If you’re dealing with this in a management environment, wondering about millennials – especially new hires from college – my advice is:
Stop. Listen. Look. Watch them. Learn about them. Be genuinely interested and fascinated in how they look at things differently.
I think you’ll be surprised. And it may help break your paradigms.
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