Recently I attend Microsoft Ignite in Orlando and had the opportunity to attend a great session by my friend Dux Raymond Sy on the five generations in the workplace today. I thought this session was brilliant and highlighted some key points my daughter and I had been recently noodling on, so we both sat down and watched the session together to see what we could learn about the other’s generation.
Why Is Generation Z…
First, I have a few thoughts about this upcoming generation that have definitely tainted my view of them negatively. It seems to me that a large number of them are having issues coping within our existing societal framework. This has lead to anxiety, depression, fear, and stress. The music, books, and movies they seem to enjoy continue to support those preconceptions. While every generation has a subgroup that claims the dark, depressed corner (i.e. goths, emos, etc.), this current generation seems to have taken this up as a default place for them all.
Now, I am not here to explain how to fix that. No way. I am not even willing to say all of that is true, especially on a singular basis rather than as a stereotype. What I am trying to illustrate is how casually we assess a group until we take the time to really examine them and, more importantly, decide to care about them as an individual.
How Does A Gen X Interact With A Gen Z?
Notice I didn’t ask “Why would a Gen X interact with a Gen Z”. First, we no longer have a choice as they are entering the workplace RIGHT NOW. So this question is immediately relevant in our families, communities, and now our workplaces. How do we communicate in a way that shows respect, provokes dialog, and encourages honesty?
While I am certainly no expert, I have been working with youth for about twenty years in a variety of capacities and have come upon some specific tips for others of my generation.
- Get to know the vernacular. You need to know what they mean when they say “yeet” or that something is “thick”
- Listen to them! They have a different way of interpreting the world and it is really interesting.
- Empathy, empathy, empathy. The old adage that we need to “walk in someone else’s shoes” is critically true today! You can’t get to know and understand someone if you don’t take the time to empathize with them over their challenges.
- Treat them with respect and value. I know, why wouldn’t this be the norm, but it isn’t. Look at how we have treated the so called “whiny” Millennials. Let’s not do the same thing to Gen Z.
- Do a project with them. This can be anything. For me it has been construction projects with an organization called WorldChangers. With two adults and ten students of various ages you get to rebuild major issues with homes in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Talk about the conversations and interactions you can have!
- Encourage them. This generation has a lot of fear as our society focuses so much on all the bad stuff going on like it is the worst it has ever been.
- Do something mundane with them. Something that isn’t high stress, like board or video games, and just interact and talk.
- Talk straight with them. If you are walking on eggshells they will notice and not respond, but if you come out with some confidence they will respond in kind.
- Get to understand their culture, but not like it is a museum you are viewing from the outside. Keep up with some of the memes and other ways they communicate to the world.
- Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something. Getting to know something together creates amazing interactions. They need to know we are not perfect either and we have our own hangups.
With all this, do it gently. Don’t suffocate them. They are NORMAL people, not monsters or a different species. This is not a zoo viewing.
Be ready to learn amazing things, new perspectives, and a whole new cultural language!