What a rowdy dog taught me about bridging generational perspectives
My parents recently visited my sister and her family to help them move. After a long day’s work, they were exhausted and ready for a well-deserved night’s sleep. That’s when the noise started: a loud and unusual wailing. It sounded like a dog, but no one was quite sure. It went on all night long.
The next morning, a tired and frustrated neighbor came to ask my family if they’d heard the noise, hoping my sister’s dog was not the source. It was natural to wonder what kind of family would be irresponsible enough to let their pet keep the entire block awake.
A little investigation revealed that the noise was indeed from a neighborhood dog named Ally. Her best buddy and sidekick of 10 years had been put down, and Ally was grieving. The noise was the only way she knew to express her heartache, pain, and loss.
Suddenly, everyone’s perspectives shifted from judgement to empathy. And instead of finger-pointing, they offered love and support.
How many times do we falsely judge each other by outward “wailing”? I’ve done it and it’s been done to me. And, in the world of generational relations, I encounter it daily. The noises sound something like this:
- “Can you believe their lack of work ethic?” “Why do they work so much?”
- “They are so needy. No one catered to us when we entered the workplace.” “Why have they not given me feedback or a promotion yet?”
- “Why do they question my leadership?” “Why do they shut down my ideas?”
- “Can you believe they texted our client and used emojis?” “Why are they still using email? #oldschool”
Do any of these examples sound familiar? Much like the situation with Ally, it’s all too easy to jump to conclusions without assessing the backstory: the “why’s” behind each generation’s perspective and the “how’s” for bringing them together for better outcomes.
From wailing to winning
If generational noise is giving you a headache, you’re not alone. Sixty percent of organizations in America report conflict across age and experience, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right understanding and mindset, generational diversity – and diversity in general – can be one of your greatest opportunities!
How does it work in real life? Next time that senior leader or young manager rubs you the wrong way, consider these four steps.
1-Pause: Think before reacting or responding.
- Is the person you’re interacting with a different age than you? If so, could there be a generational misunderstanding at the root of the issue?
2-Filter Check: Consider how your generational experiences shape your views.
- How did the era you grew up in – the times, messages, media, values, and events – impact your perspective?
- Where did you get your ideas about workplace norms, expectations, and communication styles?
- Is your generational preference or “filter” hindering you from seeing younger/older colleagues in a positive light?
3-Step Back: Consider how different generational experiences shape others’ views.
- How could growing up in a different era result in different styles and preferences? Here are clues: Traditionalists, Boomers, GenXers, Millennials.
- What generational influences impact the way others think, feel, or behave?
- Why is your younger/older colleague’s approach frustrating you? Is it wrong, or is it just different?
- Are you taking time to listen and ask questions?
4-Adapt: Use generational insights to improve interactions and outcomes.
- How or where can you adapt to meet the other person where they are?
- If your perspectives differ, how can you work together in a way that gets the job done while respecting all points of view?
- How can you make your generational differences and strengths work together for a win-win?
- If your perspectives are similar, how can you build on commonalities for success?
In honor of Ally, my challenge for you is to pause, filter check, step back, and adapt. To assume less and to understand more. To put yourself in other people’s shoes. And to meet people where they are – regardless of the noise.
Question: What generational noises are you hearing? How are you responding?
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