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Crucial Applications: The Great Generational Divide

A new study from VitalSmarts and the ASTD Workforce Development Community shows that more than 1 in 3 people waste five or more hours each week (12 percent of their work week), due to chronic, unaddressed conflict between colleagues from different generations.

The online survey of 1,350 subjects shows the two generations who have the most difficult time working together are Baby Boomers (49 – 67 years old) and Millennials (13 – 33 years old). When they do work together, the problems these two generations experience most often include:

• Dismissal of past experience

• Lack of discipline and focus

• Lack of respect

• Resistance to change or unwillingness to innovate

But conflict is not isolated to just Baby Boomers and Millennials. In fact, the results indicate a surprising level of incompetence among all generations to quickly and effectively solve problems through accountability discussions and dialogue.

Across all generations, 1 in 4 people admit to avoiding conflict with colleagues of a different age; or if they did speak up, they spoke in generalities and danced around the real issues. Other trends in communication breakdowns across generations include:

• Younger generations hesitate to hold older generations accountable.

• Millennials are the least confident in their ability to handle a difficult conversation.

• Older generations—Baby Boomers and Veterans (68 years old or older)—admit to losing their temper more easily with more than 1 in 4 saying they became frustrated, upset, or angry during a difficult conversation.

By learning a few skills to speak up to anyone—regardless of age or authority—people can candidly and respectfully resolve conflict and improve productivity in today’s multigenerational workplace.

Here are four skills for getting started.

1. Make it safe. Begin by clarifying your respect as well as your intent to achieve a mutual goal.

2. Start with the facts. Describe your concerns facts first. Don’t lead with your judgments about their age or conclusions as to why they behaved the way they did. Start by describing in non-judgmental and objective terms the actual behaviors that create problems.

3. Don’t pile on. If your colleague becomes defensive, pause for a moment and check in. Reassure him or her of your positive intentions and allow him or her to express concerns.

4. Invite dialogue. After sharing your concerns, encourage your colleague to share his or her perspective. Inviting dialogue will result in greater openness.

View the results of our study in the infographic below or click here to download a copy.

The Great Generational Divide Infographic

One thought on “Crucial Applications: The Great Generational Divide”

  1. In The Generational Divide webcast, you noted that Baby Boomers are relatively easier on Millenials than they are on Gen X, whereas Millenials are relatively more frustrated/violent towards Baby Boomers than they are to Gen Xers. You noted that age, experience and probably positional power all come into play in these relationship dynamics. I think there is another, glaring, factor. Parent-child relationships. As a Baby Boomer, I am probably more accepting of the foibles of millenials in part because my own children are of that generation. I hope their employers cut them some slack and I try to do the same for their cohort. Meanwhile, the stories millenials tell themselves about me are probably on some level influenced by their unconscious perception of me as a parental stand-in. Just wanted to bring this to your attention. – Jacque

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