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5 Ways to Improve Intergenerational Interaction

5 Ways to Improve Intergenerational Interaction

“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”

~~ George Orwell, in a review for Poetry Quarterly, Winter 1945

It wasn’t until much later in life that I learned my generation (baby boomer) was the “center of the universe”! I’m sure in my formative years it was said how much influence we had and yet the research was far less sophisticated than it has become.

The first workshop on generations I attended was at the Nevada Governor’s Conference on Tourism in the mid-’90s where, after I’d presented a session, I sat in on one given by Ann Fishman on generational targeted marketing. I was smitten by what I learned, seeing applications for meetings in every way, and by Ann’s research and ability to present it in a way that made it relevant to us all.

It is said that a generation is a hybrid of both the birth dates identified by demographers and the major socio-historical events that occurred during that time period. This article from The Atlantic looks a bit differently at it; you will see that “Generation Z” is, as of 2014, still not defined!

Before you read further on here or on the interview with Jüv Consulting and in 140 or fewer characters (because Generation Z looks to social media for solutions and answers) write or think about what your greatest intergenerational frustration is.

Done? Please share in the comments section of this Friday With Joan blog post you’re reading now and respond to the poll question here. Now read on please.

Each time I’ve presented or attended a workshop incorporating intergenerational issues, there are always those, in which I include myself, who say, “But I have lots of the qualities of other generations.” How could we not? We adapt out of necessity, curiosity or expedience (I was an early-for-boomers adapter to social media joining “chat rooms” on AOL in the early ’90s).

What is also said in conversations and in sessions—join me at ExhibitorLive on Wed., March 15, 2017, for “Why Can’t We Just Get Along?”—is that they (millennials and Generation Z) are lazy job-switchers and aren’t at all like we (baby boomers and Generation Y) are about work-ethic.

In my early social media experiences came my first major “AH-HA!” moment about generational preconceived ideas: in our writers’ group, we often, in the early evening, had students come in asking for help writing papers.

No one was very nice to them; after all, we were grown-ups and those “young whippersnappers” (did I really use that?!) were using us for what they should have been doing themselves.

Observing this, one member, who participated in the poetry workshops and other chats, who wrote beautifully, kept her identity and age quiet.

Once, while traveling, this young woman IMed (“instant messaged”) me: “Got a minute?” she asked. “Sure,” I replied. She said she wanted to come clean and told me she was 13 and afraid to disclose it for fear of being booted from the group.

My hands flew from my laptop’s keyboard, so stunned was I that a person so much younger than I, and most of those in the chat groups, could write such superb poetry. It changed my perception forever (And Aurora Lee, if you see this or someone you know does, I’d love to be back in touch!).

We are influenced by our age, experience, and the times of our formative years: The “Greatest Generation” by the Great Depression and World War II; the “Silent Generation” by the Cold War; boomers by JFK’s assassination and the civil rights and women’s movements; millennials by social media; Generation Y by 9/11; Generation Z, the first African-American U.S. president.

We can read about all of these experiences and if older, live through them too at different times of our lives. Yet, if we’ve not lived through the experience, how can we expect others to understand except by empathizing about the influence of it on their lives?

Adding to the hostility toward younger generations by baby boomers and Gen Yers is job loss fear.  We have seen people of a “certain age” fired and/or downsized (often because they make “too much money”) and those with less experience, hungry to learn and get their feet in the door and willing to work for less money, take jobs baby boomers and Generation Y once held. I too think there is envy of their ability to learn at one job and move on to something more fulfilling.

Boomers and Gen Yers talk about work-life balance; millennials and Gen Zers live it.

On top of the workplace issues, boomers (and many who are in the silent and greatest generation categories) see that businesses—hotels in particular—are designing and operating for millennials and Gen Zers: low furniture, low lighting (can you see the menus? Or even the room numbers on the guest room doors in the hallways?); casual attitudes and attire. Of course I think that even Generation Z, once they are spending their own money, will look differently at hotels and want a different experience.

For that, I’d look to Jüv for advice.

Here are some ways we can change the environment in which we live and work:

  1. Assume nothing. Treat each person as an individual and not just part of their generation. While doing so, learn about the influences on their generation and ask how they’ve been impacted (here’s one resource, among many).
  2. Use empathy. Put yourself in someone else’s place. This of course could be a great way to understand anyone and it should be. For this particular purpose and blog, use it generationally.
  3. Seek common ground. There’s a great exercise I learned from improv teacher and facilitator, Izzy Gesell—three things in common and one uniqueness—that works well in offices or departments or at meetings to discern our commonalities and develop greater camaraderie.
  4. Mentor up and down. Just as every article about how to use apps or new software or other electronics says to seek out a child or grandchild for assistance, in your workplace and at your meetings, pair up with someone of another generation and mentor. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu was a pioneer in doing this. Read more on the Deloitte website and within these survey results.
  5. Be proactive versus reactive. Seek out relationships with those of other generations. One of the reasons I was intrigued by and interviewed the three principals of Jüv Consulting was my interest in what they thought and experienced. Opportunities exist everywhere for these interactions.

As a baby boomer, I was graded as someone who “Plays well with others.” No wonder I want us to find common ground. Will you join me, please?

I’m especially grateful to the three principals of Jüv Consulting for their time. I reached out to them and they were willing to be interviewed with no payment. They’re smart and interesting, entrepreneurial and insightful with a wide base of people to provide more input. I hope hotel companies and others will work with them.

Make sure to read their responses on the related Friday With Joan Q&A.

And if you missed it, click here to access the March 2017 edition of the Friday With Joan newsletter for even more related content.