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Bridging the Generation Gap At Work

By Sheree Nicholas

How would I convince staff members who are about 15-20 years my senior to do things my way without having to pull rank? One in particular sulks up a storm and she undermines me with staff from both my area and others if I request a change.

I believe it’s time to have a conversation with the person that is causing the most trouble. There are three things to remember when having a conversation with someone (especially one that could be difficult):

Show respect

  • By considering her feelings and dignity
  • By acknowledging her expertise and experience
  • By valuing her differences

Involve the person

  • By asking for her views, insights and ideas
  • By listening rather than talking
  • By delegating

Communicate positive expectations

  • By speaking confidently about success
  • By your enthusiasm and energy
  • By your personal commitment

When you have the conversation, be assertive about your expectations. This means:

  • Being direct and calling a spade a spade. It is not about being aggressive or passive.
  • Focus on the issue not the person.
  • Describe what you perceive is happening and say what you want to happen in the future.

Assertiveness Formula

Try this formula when you want to assert yourself:

When…(describe the situation or event) I…(describe the impact on you). What I’d like is…(describe what you want the other person to do) so that… (describe the benefit for you or others).

You are both there to do a job, so keep the conversation focused on what you are there to deliver and the best way for you to work together going forward to achieve this. Set the expectation that, if the person has a problem with a change you are proposing, she talks to you about it first. Also, be clear that if she sees problems with the change, that you expect her to come up with solutions or alternatives – this is not just about picking holes but about moving forward.

Be clear about what is non-negotiable and what is up for grabs. For example, “Our reporting process must change to include X, and report 1 week earlier from next quarter“, how you do this, when and who are all up for grabs/discussion.

Keep your Enemies Closer

If this older woman has a long history with the organisation, presumably this also means she has strengths as well as some good experience and networks that you can use. It is like the old saying:

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Get this person involved in a key project or change that you are thinking about in an area that uses her strengths and expertise, and seek her input and advice. This does not mean that you have to do it her way but get her alongside and shaping part of the change. This can help her feel involved in the change rather than seeing it as something that is being imposed on her.

Another option is to talk to this person about changes that she would like to see. Consider whether you can work with the person to make these happen!

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