by Ericka Gordon | 1/22/16
I can see why Baby Boomers and Gen Xers wouldn’t be interested in getting to know their millennial co-workers (and vice versa). What could we possibly have in common, right? We millennials spent our weekend out on the town at concerts and trendy bars while you spent yours in a gymnasium or on a field watching your son/daughter’s sports team. But how we spent our weekends is the very least of what we have to offer each other. Once we get past the “How was your weekend?” small talk there’s an opportunity to learn some personality traits about each other that could be really beneficial to the business.
I had lunch with a family friend last month. She’s a veteran in the workforce and she was telling me about a time when she was hesitant to give a younger co-worker advice on a work-related project. She didn’t want him to feel like she was trying to be his mom and tell him what to do. We found ourselves in a discussion about how people in general are more likely to be unreceptive to advice from strangers, but I took it a step further and said millennials are more likely to be unreceptive to advice from older co-workers when they don’t like their approach —especially when they don’t really have a relationship with those older co-workers. It’s all about how you offer the advice or direction. My friend said that as she’s gotten to know her co-worker she’s learned that he’s into technology and she uses that to motivate him. When they get new software that they have to learn, for instance, she challenges him to see how fast he can master it. It becomes a game for him and an opportunity to teach for her.
What she said reminded me a lot of love languages. Love languages are the five different ways people like to be shown they are loved: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. Everyone has one primary love language, and when in a relationship with someone (romantic or platonic) it’s beneficial to learn that person’s love language. I think, in a way, that can be applied to work relationships as well. Maybe everyone has a learning (for lack of a better word) language as well. I know there are visual learners, auditory learners and kinesthetic learners, but what if it goes deeper than that? I believe taking the time to get to know your co-workers will reveal their learning language and in turn create a more productive work environment for everyone involved.
For example, it’s common knowledge that there’s something in some people’s egos that won’t allow them to back down from a challenge. Once you say the words “I dare you” there’s pretty much no backing out for them. My friend used what she learned about her co-worker and combined it with this trait to more effectively communicate with and motivate her younger co-worker. She said he excels in that type of scenario so I’d say his learning language is competition or being challenged.
Some people like to figure things out on their own. I’d say their learning language is trial and error. No matter how many times you try to advise them they have to learn it on their own through failure. Later on they’ll come back and say you were right. Clearly that’s not the most efficient process, but you have to learn to understand your co-workers and how they operate. Know who they are and let them be that person.
Keep in mind this is just a theory I came up with over a taco salad at Chuy’s Mexican restaurant, but I think it’s something worth looking into. The foundation of my theory is communication and nothing bad has ever come from two co-workers from different generations taking time to get to know each other for the benefit of the work. Whether you’re a millennial, Baby Boomer or Gen X, we can all open the lines of communication within our offices. Start the trend and watch it become a part of your office’s every day culture. If we breakdown the communication barriers and blur the generation line we may find that we’re a lot more alike than we originally thought. We can talk about generational differences all day long, but at the end of the day we’re all human beings just looking to connect with others.