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Generation gap: It’s a two-way street

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in Workplace Communication

Susan has 30 years’ experience as an admin, while her new admin manager, Jade, is young enough to be her daughter. The age gap alone isn’t a problem for Susan, but she sometimes feels that Jade lacks “respect” for the way she does things. Meanwhile, Jade feels resistance from Susan; it’s difficult to establish new ways of doing things.

How can these two generations work things out?

Steps for Jade to take:

Try telling Susan you need her help. One reason you may feel resistance is that Susan doesn’t feel you value her opinions. By calling on her expertise and experience to help you with a challenge, you’ll make her feel important.

Add a thick layer of respect when you’re dealing with a subordinate who’s older than you, says Nicholas Aretakis, who wrote No More Ramen: The 20-Something’s Real World Survival Guide.

“Just because the more-experienced person isn’t a manager, it doesn’t mean they’re not extremely good at what they do,” he says. “You can’t treat them like a typical subordinate. You need to give them more latitude, courtesy—treat them like more of an equal in the way you communicate,” Aretakis says.

Steps for Susan to take:

Next time Jade proposes a new way of doing things, attempt to understand what underlying problem her solution addresses, and point it out. Example: “Great idea. I like the way your plan addresses the problem we’ve had with ___ in the past.” She, like you, feels the same need for respect. While you want Jade to respect your experience, she wants to be recognized for her fresh, innovative ideas.

Bolster your place in the office
as “the voice of experience,” Aretakis advises, by keeping two types of accomplishment logs. First, fine-tune your résumé to show your experience in the field. Second, keep a running list of achievements at your office, such as streamlining procedures or costs.

Ask for a one-on-one with Jade in a neutral, low-pressure setting, and bring your accomplishment logs as supporting material. Aretakis recommends saying, “I respect that you’re my boss, and I also want there to be an understanding of my skills. Here’s the value I bring to the team, and how I could be contributing more.”

“Be clear about your objectives and wants,” Aretakis says, and propose an alternative to the way you communicate now.

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