It’s hard to understand the Grand Canyon-style differences between anxious Boomers and indifferent Millennials unless you are lecturing to a mixed-age group and watch them react. Audience questions also reveal attitudes between Boomers and Millennials. That was a recent experience and here’s what I learned:
1. The attention span of Boomers and Millennials is the same. Boomers disguise their boredom better because they have had years of practice.
2. Millennials realize disengagement is a powerful weapon – and how disconcerting to Boomers. Nothing invalidates Boomer superiority as quickly as utter, unfeigned indifference. Most Millennials are never rude orally. Quiet is the delivery system for judgment on anything. People who won’t participate in discussion groups have made a statement.
3. Indifference is far more effective in squelching someone than argument. Why argue? Withdraw.
4. Rank and hierarchy mean nothing to Millennials. Achievement does. There are no corporate heroes, only entrepreneurial ones. If Facebook stock goes to $1., millennials (presumably only those who don’t own it) will still see Mark Zuckerberg as more important than the CEO of General Motors. What is the latter’s name anyway!
6. Boomers who have lived their lives believing in a set of “truths” are not being challenged on those truths but simply ignored. This makes them anxious and defensive
As one person on the feedback sheet said, “I had no idea there was so much I didn’t know.” Another opined that “If I could retire tomorrow I would leave the so-called ‘multi-generational workplace’ forever.” The feedback from younger participants talked about facts they hadn’t known. If the Boomers had anything important to say it wasn’t reflected in the feedback.
If you see any of this in your workplace and it matters to you, consider serious question one-on-one with a sample from each age group. Don’t ask any questions you don’t want answered. When I asked several of the Millennials what they’d found so boring in the presentation they told me three things. Lectures are their least favorite way to get information. They want subject,verb, object sentences — not revelation through examples. Finally, why oh why do older people believed they’re entitled to respect because they’ve lived longer?
If I could bring a cross-generational understanding to the workplace my address would be the south of France. It isn’t. Still, most of the managers and employees I talk to are not happy with the current environment. They haven’t figured out how to change it.
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