JUDGE AND BE JUDGED.
DOES IT REALLY HAVE TO COME TO THIS?
Have we closed the generation gap yet? From my observation, it seems we simply stopped talking about it. By the end of 2019, many Millennials probably started feeling like a controversial politician hoping for a change in the news cycle.
Sure enough, the topic had worn itself out just as we shifted gears into a pandemic, racial tensions and political strife.
Just because the subject matter got bumped for more critical priorities doesn’t mean the issue went away. It seems to have simply changed forms. What was once a chronic and acute frustration has become more of a silent resignation.
Remaining are scattered mutterings or overt body language.
“What happened to the concept of loyalty?”
“Does anyone ever work around here?”
“Where is everyone?!”
Ah, the silent sounds of familiar condescension. Perfect examples of the damaging judgments rippling through the atmosphere in various expressions. A generation of leaders airing their confusion and disapproval of the work styles and habits of another generation of employees.
Which typically provokes silent retorts:
“Does he really think I’m not working just because he can’t see me?!”
“I don’t want to be you. I’m not sacrificing my life over this job.”
“Maybe if you worked on building our relationship, we’d have one.”
Few are actually having these conversations anywhere outside of their heads, but the conversations are real. Or maybe these are just my experiences with others . . .
According to a Deloitte study, in three years Millennials will comprise 75% of the global workforce. Nevertheless, from my experience as a coach and consultant, generational conflict in the workplace isn’t about work ethic, contrary to what many leaders may believe.
Filling the gap asks us to be open to the perspectives, values and convictions of each other when we feel an instinctive tendency to judge them.
Chances are, you as a leader have been bred into different beliefs than the individuals on your team because you were born in another space and time. These variants can cause communication breakdown, negative assumptions and the erosion of trust – without you even knowing it.
Perhaps we’ve identified another opportunity to develop and apply compassionate logic and empathy skills.
There are academic experts who can tell us the nuances of each generation, the origin of their attitudes and the rationale behind it. My alma mater, Purdue University, provides a helpful infographic for this purpose. This tool can come in handy if you ever need to quickly pivot out of a negative reaction to what someone of another generation said or did.
Educating ourselves about others can neutralize the negative emotions we feel when we disagree with the way they operate.
The generation gap isn’t the only gap we all need to strive to fill in the workplace. Still, it can be a good place to start. If you want to strengthen your culture, revisiting any negative verdicts regarding generational differences can make a big, positive impact.
To guide you through the next time you catch yourself labeling someone on your team, ask yourself the following*:
Why do I feel this way about the person?
How or why might the person’s perspective differ from mine?
Why do I feel so strongly and so negatively about the person’s perspective?
What damage might I be causing by taking this position?
Why would it be beneficial for me to try to approach this person more productively?
Am I willing to drop the label so I can see them through a more positive lens and approach them differently?
*Refer to your generational cheat sheet for help when necessary.
These can be tough questions if we are not willing to look within ourselves for answers.
Remember, your team is counting on you, as their leader, to provide a safe environment to communicate openly. If you are judging or labeling any of them, certainly they will be judging and labeling you. And that, my friend, is not necessarily bad karma. It is the making of a dysfunctional team.
And I know that is not at all your intention. It never is. Think of it as an unintended consequence of habit.
Even great leaders err. At some time or another, we all inadvertently make wrong turns in our thinking. We are all only human. That’s not an excuse to continue weak thinking and bad behaviors. It is a reason to forgive ourselves and each other – and do better next time. Let your ambitions rise higher as you strive to be the best leader you can be.
As always, you got this. I absolutely believe in you.