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How does older manager fit in amid younger co-workers?

Coach's Corner--March 2, 2009

The Client
Name: Al
Age: 55
Title: Manager, Data processing
Industry: Manufacturing
Issue: Managing relationships between generations

Q. I'm an older employee in a youngish company. We all get along, but often I just don't understand my co-workers. They seem to feel the same way about me. I think the work would get done better if we communicated better. Any tips?

The inner game
Take a closer look. Assess whether there are real, work-hindering barriers, or if they are mostly your internal concerns. If you have anxiety over getting older, recognize that you're not alone, and take stock of the benefits that come from experience. Whatever your concerns, take an in-depth look and focus on finding the positives.

Be specific. General concerns are hard to address; specific issues can be assessed and changed. Are you worried that you don't share an understanding of your goals? Or is it more about conflicting styles: formal vs. informal? Be detailed about the challenges you see.

Know what you want. Are you looking for a greater social connection? A different style of business planning and interaction? Knowing this will help you influence others around you.

Suspend judgment. It's not unusual for people from different generations to be confused by each other, and then move to criticism. To build better communication, accept their perspective as valid, and use that as a starting point for mutual understanding.

The outer game
Educate yourself. Knowledge lays the groundwork for acceptance. Do some reading about the different generations, including their workplace dynamics. For example, the generations tend to be motivated differently: Baby boomers want to feel valued, Gen X-ers want to be allowed to "forget the rules" and do it their way, and Gen Y workers want to know they'll get to work with other bright, creative people. Learn about the social and cultural aspects, too, so that you can participate in conversations apart from task-related discussions.

Remember that everyone is an individual. It's useful to understand broader patterns, but they can easily become misleading stereotypes. Individuals will surprise you by bucking the trends. Get better acquainted with your co-workers. Learn about their families and their interests. Share about yourself, too, so that people can know you better. Find areas of common ground to build on.

Understand other differences. Setting aside age, people vary greatly in how they take in information and make decisions. These differences can create a host of challenges -- compare, for example, a person who prefers to create a detailed plan with one who likes to improvise.

Seek shared solutions. Create a collegial atmosphere by starting a conversation about ways your group could communicate more effectively. Rather than dictating solutions, share your ideas and ask for thoughts from others. If necessary, get someone from outside to lead the conversation. If there are gaps in your internal planning or communications processes, try to fix them, focusing on the problem, not the people.

The last word
Acceptance of yourself and others, learning about each other, and a commitment to ongoing communication will help you bridge the generation gap in your workplace.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted March 1, 2009
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