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How do I bridge the generational gap at work?

We work in a three-generational workplace. Each generation is different and we often struggle to dialogue well across generations. What tips do you have to bridge this gap in our crucial conversations?

First let me compliment you in attempting to proactively seek ways to bridge this “generational gap.” Many people have just assumed that the gap is too great or too much trouble. So thanks for taking the time to make this inquiry!

You might be interested to learn that VitalSmarts conducted a study early last year called: The Great Generational Divide. This study showed that unaddressed resentment between Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials saps productivity by as much as 12 percent. You can see the results of the study here: 
http://www.vitalsmarts.com/press/2014/02/the-great-generational-divide/

Let me make a couple of observations and suggestions to add to these very helpful insights on attempting to engage in dialogue across this generational divide.

It has been said that conflict is inevitable, but resentment is optional. We often encounter conflict because our background, our education and experiences differ so greatly. But how we choose to handle these conflicts can either lead to talking it out or acting it out.

Start With Heart

The greatest skills and strategies designed to bridge these generational gaps will fail if our heart, or motive is not continually focused on the larger picture of finding a way to connect with the other person. This is an exercise in emotional maturity. In the midst of high stakes, opposing opinions, and strong emotions, can we find a way to change the motives of avoiding or attacking to those of listening and learning? Can we come to these generational encounters with a heart of genuine curiosity to learn about others, to lean into their reality and seek first to understand their world?

Once you’ve paid attention to your heart and adjusted your motive, the following skills from this research study will serve you well:

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 others’ 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.

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