Boomers Beware: Don’t Drink the Hater-ade

"Attitude problems have nothing to do with generations" isn't likely the something you'd expect me to write about since I've been harping on the differences between Geeks and Geezers lately. But a great blog response to a story about generational attitudes on caught my attention.

Denise Baron, a baby boomer (like myself), described seminars and conferences that teach baby boomers how to work effectively with other generations. She said as a manager, she’s been advised on how best to deal with the needs, idiosyncrasies and behavioral characteristics of members of  the Gen X and Gen Y generations.

“Here’s what I suggest to those newcomers: How ‘bout learning how to deal with me” she says.

Perfect!  Why not just come out and say "it's my way or the highway?"  Becky Johns, the Gen Y who wrote the response, asked, "Wow. Who gave Denise hater-ade to sip on in her morning coffee?"

I agree with Johns. It's Baby Boomer managers like Baron who will keep me writing, speaking, and training for years to come.  Gen X and Gen Y aren't the ones with bad attitudes and Boomers don't own all the good ones.

I wrote in my new book, “While it would be easy to pin the blame for all workplace conflicts on inter-generational differences, it would also be naive and superficial. Managers should think twice before blaming age differences as the cause of all conflicts (p. 123)."

Growing up in different generations merely shapes that cohort's point of view. Those views aren't right or wrong, good or bad.  They only add a different perspective. It's the responses of other people to those points of view that determine attitude – good or bad.. 

Interpersonal conflict has been around since the beginning of time. Even between employees who have grown up together, gone to the same schools, and participated on the same teams, people often rub people the wrong way, even when it’s not intentional. Attitude clashes occur between generations largely because people treat others according to their personal preferences.

Many experts advise using the Golden Rule to avoid or at least minimize conflict. But contrary to popular belief, the rule for managing interpersonal conflict is not golden. It’s platinum. Winning friends and influencing people when you treat others like YOU want to be treated is much too ego-centric. Alternatively, the Platinum Rule, proposed by my colleague Dr. Tony Alessandra, advises “treat people like THEY like to be treated.” This is excellent advice for people from all generations.

Generational conflicts can easily be avoided if leaders and employees alike understand that the way they approach and see the world is only one view of a multi-dimensional matrix.  Walking in the shoes of others ultimately builds trust and creates credibility.  Boomers must begin to see the world through the lens of younger workers.  Gen X and Gen Y must be willing to see a world that was and learn from it.

To help others "walk in others' shoes," several behavioral models have been developed and tested over time. The results have been nothing short of astonishing.  One of the most popular, and my personal preference, is the DISC model. 

When employees and management fail to communicate effectively within and across generations, generation differences clash. Organizations, as a result, see a negative impact on the bottom line, retention rates, grievances and complaints, tangible and intangible costs, and morale.

Managers must begin to realize that there will be no spoils for a winner to collect if they take a win-lose approach when it comes to managing these generational differences.  Managers who choose to stick to their guns and prove who is boss might win the battle, but they’ll surely lose the war. Because if managers believe they will get the younger generations to conform to organizational leadership shaped by the agrarian and industrial age, they are mistaken.  The choice to bridge, not forcibly close, generational gaps is not optional; it’s critical for survival.



Ira S Wolfe