One of my best lessons about the workplace came from a three-year-old. Justin was enrolled in the preschool where I worked during college, and he basically defied every request we made of him. He refused to nap, never sat down to listen during story time, and constantly frustrated the teachers with his behavior. Then one day I asked him to do an exercise that proved challenging for the other children. I sat down with him, took my time explaining the exercise and made sure to give him my full attention. Then Justin truly surprised me. Not only did he cooperate and listen, but he got all the answers correct and quicker than his classmates. Even better, when I congratulated him for doing well, he wanted to keep going and continue learning. At that moment I realized Justin was actually very smart and just needed to be reached in the right way.
I wish that boomers and millennials would have a similar realization about each other in the workplace. Try to see past the stereotypes and instead view each other as intelligent individuals who may just require a different approach. Like Justin’s teachers, we can be quick to criticize and go right to frustration. If we just take a step back to appreciate each other, we can accomplish so much more. Here are my three suggestions.
- SLOW DOWN! When it comes to critical technology skills, millennials move faster for the simple reason that we were raised with all this technology around us constantly. I cannot be the only millennial who has sat there thinking, “How many times do I need to explain every click to this person!?” And the answer is this: probably about as many times as my boomer counterparts need to explain every step of a proper sales call tactic that’s new to me. In both cases, we end up saving time in the long run when we slow down to help each other.
- Assume the best, not the worst. It’s so easy to fall into stereotypes, whether we call the impassioned millennial “high-maintenance” or say the non-texting boomer “just doesn’t want to learn.” But if the “troublemaker” child was really a sweet boy feeling stressed by his parents’ divorce, maybe the millennial who comes on strong is actually feeling intimidated by a roomful of authority figures. And maybe the boomer who barely uses a smartphone relies on an executive assistant because she’s embarrassed to ask for help. Rather than automatically assuming that the millennial doesn’t want to work hard or that the boomer doesn’t care, assume they do. See what happens, and they might surprise you with how well they respond.
- Listen and learn. Successful relationships need good communication, and that doesn’t mean bashing each other in meetings or on social media. As a millennial, I love getting feedback in real time and try to soak in as much as I can from experienced coworkers. I also recognize how lucky I am to work for a company that respects what all employees have to say. Take the time to really listen, and you might get many good ideas from your boomer coworkers, or vice versa.
There is one thing I know about every single one of my friends and contemporaries and that is we are passionate. We truly, wholeheartedly want to make a difference in this world. It might sound cheesy and silly, but it’s true! We don’t have the boomers’ experience, but with trust, patience and mutual respect, millennials and boomers can make the most of our respective strengths. I think we might just astonish each other with all we can achieve.
By Stephanie Grimes