090: How to Bridge the Workplace Generation Gap | with David Maxfield

by Joe Sherwood on June 15, 2014

Crucial AccountabilityCan people of different generations work together productively, or do their differences lead only to conflict? According to a new study from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and social scientist for organizational change David Maxfield, unaddressed tension and resentment between Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials is sapping productivity in corporate America. Specifically, the study showed that more than 1 in 3 people waste five or more hours each week (12 percent of their work week), due to chronic, unaddressed conflict between colleagues from different generations.

The study looked at the three current generations in the workplace: Baby Boomers (age 49 – 57), Gen Xers (age 34 – 48), and Millennials (age 13 – 33). The study revealed the common perceptions and latent resentment each age group has for their colleagues. Specifically:

  • Baby Boomers complain that Gen Xers and Millennials lack discipline, focus, and are distracted. They also think Millennials lack commitment.
  • Gen Xers complain that Baby Boomers display resistant/dogmatic thinking and are sexist, defensive, incompetent, resistant to change, and lacking in creativity. They believe that Millennials are arrogant.
  • Millennials complain that Baby Boomers display resistant/dogmatic thinking, and are sexist, defensive, insensitive, slow to respond, resistant to change, incompetent, and lacking in creativity. They also believe Gen Xers have poor problem-solving skills and are generally slow to respond.

Rather than resolving this through direct communication and accountability, over a quarter of people admitted to avoiding conflict with colleagues of a different age. If they did speak up, they spoke in generalities and danced around the real issues. The study found that:

  • Younger generations hesitate to hold older generations accountable.
  • Millennials are the least confident in their ability to handle a difficult conversation.
  • Older generations, Baby Boomers and Veterans (68 years old or older), admit to losing their temper more easily with more than 1 in 4 saying they became frustrated, upset, or angry during a difficult conversation.

David Maxfield is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for organizational change. David says that by learning a few skills to speak up to anyone—regardless of age or authority—people can candidly and respectfully resolve conflict and improve productivity in today’s multigenerational workplace. In this episode, Jesse and David discuss four of the skills from David’s book Crucial Accountability: Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior:

  1. Start with the facts. Describe the “gap.” Describe your concerns facts first. Don’t lead with your judgments about their age or conclusions as to why they behaved the way they did. Start by describing in non-judgmental and objective terms the actual behaviors that create problems.
  2. Make it safe. Begin by clarifying your respect as well as your intent to achieve a mutual goal.
  3. Make it motivating. Help others want to take action.
  4. Agree on a plan and follow up. Gain commitment and move to action.

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