Is Age Just a Number? Stop Stereotyping Generations
Is age just a number? No, and Yes!
No, because we all view people, events, situations, etc. from our own reference points, which come from our own experiences. Most of our perceptions are formed by what we experience, see and hear, before we are eighteen. Everyone has their own experiences, and each generation has been impacted by different external events, which influence how we view the world, how we communicate, and what we value.
At the same time, while a vast majority of people in a generation may be impacted by an event, like the Cuban Missile Crisis, Viet Nam War, Columbine, Google, election of Barack Obama, etc. we’re not all affected the same way
It’s more likely, but not definite, that a Gen Y person, born after 1980, will be more comfortable with social networking applications, than someone born before 1955.
Yes, age is just a number, because anyone of any age, can learn how to use social networking applications, and many people born before 1980, are very comfortable with social networking. A sixty-year-old person can compete in a triathlon, and a twenty five year old can be a couch potato.
Age, or being a member of any one-generation doesn’t have to define who we are, or control what we do for a living. It doesn’t mean that an older person, can’t keep learning, or that a younger person doesn’t have insight, experience and wisdom.
No matter what, if we are going to be successful in the workplace, and in our lives, we would all benefit from knowing how to communicate across generations.
Here are ten tips for communicating well across generations.
Stay curious. You can read all the books on generation differences, and get the PowerPoint slides, but that’s a poor substitute for getting to know people older, or younger. So often, books just categorize and stereotype as opposed offering information about cultural norms.
Ask people older, or younger than you questions about their experiences, viewpoints, and interests. You might be surprised at what you have, or don’t have in common.
Be ready to learn, and share your knowledge. Older employees, or those who have been their longer, have institutional memory, and information. Many of them have learned from their mistakes, and would be glad to share what they’ve learned, so you don’t have to make them.
Younger employees, my have technical knowledge that can help you do your job faster, more accurately, and achieve better results. You can set up a skills and knowledge exchange that will help everyone be more successful, and advance careers.
Be Mindful of how your assumptions influence your interactions.
Let go of seeing individuals as part of a generational group. Don’t assume just because someone is a certain age, they like a particular type of music, or movie. Many of the books on generation differences don’t take into account different cultures, religions, sexual orientation, or other dimensions of diversity that impact us all.
Put yourself in their heads, and try to see through their eyes. Do you know what their life is like? Do you know what motivates? them, excites them, or what they don’t like–or how they want to be seen?
Try to empathize with their situation, needs, and values by asking questions, and wondering how you might think, and behave if you had their experiences. Find out what they are interested in, and ask if you can participate.
Watch a TV show, YouTube video, or visit a website geared for another generation. Get familiar with music that spans generations like jazz, blues, rock and roll, classic, hip hop, and world music from cultures you are not familiar with. Understanding each other’s music can help build perspective. This is true not only for generations, but for learning about different cultures.
Be flexible as to the means of your communication (face-to-face, email, etc.) Don’t insist on using the one that is most convenient for you. Use the means of communication that will get you heard, and achieve the outcomes you want.
Avoid generational jargon, and references. Avoid idioms, metaphors, and verbal points of reference that are not widely understood. Be prepared to explain what you mean to someone from another generation without getting impatient because they don’t understand what you said.
Be aware of possible miscommunication Look for signs that you may be misunderstanding each other, whether it is a confused look, or response.
Ask why, and what if. Don’t assume the other person has made a decision or come to a conclusion based on their age. Ask why they’ve made a certain decision, or think a certain way. Be sure you ask why with curiosity, and not as though you are challenging their judgment. If you want to present another perspective, or offer a suggestion, ask what if…, or have you thought of…, to get your point across.
You may change your mind when you hear their thought process.
Listen, listen, listen! Be sure to let the other person finish talking, and don’t attribute all disagreements to generation difference. Ask for clarification if you don’t get the information you need.