Younger executives will likely find that at some stage they have to manage workers older than they are. If an otherwise savvy business executive in his 20s has to give direction to someone of his parents’ generation, well that can get downright awkward. A few simple tips may help oil the wheels, even before you’ve done the years to get the life experience.
Anyone in charge of others in the workplace wants harmony in the team. Yet the generational gap can cause friction. Try to see things from the older person’s perspective. They might see you as an arrogant hotshot because of your age, but if you can understand why they think that, you just may be able to change their mind with good communication.
David Isaacs, a wealth advisor and CPA at Traust Sollus Wealth Management in New York, says that good conversation is the most important tool you can have.
“My recommendation would be to try to be more intentional in your communication, and say, ‘OK, help me understand why you think the way you do, or why you feel that that’s accurate,’” Isaacs said. “Everyone looks at situations through the lens of the past, so their experiences are going to dictate how they view what’s coming after them. We can talk to each other and actually understand what someone is communicating.”
Here are Isaac’s three tips for what to do if your workplace is prone to those awkward situations with older colleagues:
1. Improve the team’s communication
Remember that communication kills conflict, and conflict kills communication. So learning to talk to each other and appreciate each other’s points of view can go a long way towards reducing workplace friction.
2. Listen to different opinions
There is always something new to learn, and there’s always someone else who has a different experience to you. If you approach a situation with the assumption you’re always correct, then you’re effectively shutting down any valuable communication. On the other hand, if you can think of everyone else as being superior to you in something, even if you don’t know what that is yet, then you will be open to potentially valuable insights.
3. Ask how they want to be managed
Not everyone works well under the same kind of management style. Isaacs said the first question he asks someone who joins his team is “How would you like to be managed?” in order to understand what they will benefit from.
Some people like to be told exactly what to do, whereas others appreciate being left alone.
“[You can ask] ‘What can I do to facilitate your productivity and your progress?’” Isaacs said. “You just need to be able to facilitate their work; you don’t necessarily need to micromanage them — unless they want you to do that.”
One final tip. Always preserve the older team member’s dignity. An older worker may feel overlooked and may not be happy that promotions have been given to younger workers. Yet, if that older worker is still a valued part of the team, don’t let their negative perceptions impede their usefulness. Let them know that they are needed, and that their opinions are valued.
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