Baby-boomers, generation X-Y-Z, etc. When different generations feel confined to the workplace, we’re witnessing an authentic generation clash. This is the major challenge facing Canadian companies and institutions nowadays.

Each generation has its own values and ambitions. Whereas for the older generation, it was all about work, work, work, and starting a family was a model of success – despite the high divorce rate, for the new generations, it is quite a different story. They want quick positions of responsibility, flexible working hours and work-life balance. Their values are different. While interested in monetary bonuses and benefits, interest is more focused on social and fun activities and learning, and variety is beauty. No wonder managers are at their wits’ end!

It is essential to understand that this issue is intimately linked to values and communication. If you don’t know exactly what your counterpart wants, why they want it, how and when they want it, it will be difficult to get along (understand), live together and learn to tolerate each other.

The heart of the problem is the mind’s matrix, which is made up of several layers of superimposed beliefs. Together, they form our belief system, the one that tells us what’s real, what’s possible, what we are, who we are, where we’re going, what we can do, who others are, and 1000 other things. Most of the time, these beliefs are nothing more than generalizations. We are quick to attach labels: “The new generation is like this, the old generation is like that”. These unconscious and misleading generalizations give us a strong impression that things are as we perceive them. But nothing could be further from the truth: what we perceive is distorted. There is something more to understand, something more to discover. And to get there, we must first understand ourselves, understand the sources of our prejudices, accept that others may have a different opinion and that they are, quite simply, different from us. Imagine if everyone thought the same way and everyone was the same… That would be so boring!

The technological revolution in which we evolve has led us to see things differently. Everything is simpler and faster: we click on a button and the information we need is immediately available, so people are becoming increasingly impatient. In the old days, when I started working, we were using letters and telexes. Today, information is instantaneous. It is obvious that we can’t think and work in the same way, but does that mean we communicate better? The answer is no.

Instead of seeing this melting pot of personalities and values as an irritant, isn’t it vital to capitalize on the strengths of different generations and the synergy this can generate? To do so, let’s start by recognizing and understanding what differentiates these generations, so we can see what each group can bring to the other, and encourage intergenerational sharing of knowledge. For example, you know that the new generations master technology better than anyone else, so use their skills!

To transform the outside world, we must firstly change our paradigms, and humans are full of paradigms. Change happens by altering the way we think, process, construct, ascribe, define, label, evaluate and frame things. The world as we experience it is, ultimately, a matter of our constructions. When we learn to create meaning, frame, and reframe, we will benefit from greater mental and emotional flexibility, and consequently, freedom of choice. In this context, intergenerational communication becomes a success.

Communicate comes from the Latin communicare, meaning to share a part of oneself with others. And in this quest for a shared relationship with others, everyone has the right to be who they are and to work as they wish. Anthropologists have discovered that, when we interact with people who are different from us, we tend to think of them as abnormal, weird, and wrong. It’s all a question of perception and interpretation! We simply don’t have the same experience, the same points of reference, and therefore, the same reality. To define himself, an individual always needs to compare himself to someone else. Misinterpretations, misunderstandings, problems and, above all, ego, create a gulf between every human being. Every age group, every culture, has its own ideas, its own way of behaving. There is no right or wrong way, it’s just different. And to understand this, we need to become observant and develop mental hygiene and emotional intelligence.

To create an inclusive, effective, and efficient workplace, we need to Communicate Differently™ and Live Differently™. To achieve this, a transformation must take place within each of us. Here are two avenues to explore:

1) Develop your assertiveness. This is a course I developed a few years ago so that, even when someone gets on my nerves, I’m still able to communicate and discuss disagreements with that person without attacking their dignity, because otherwise they will defend themselves, and it always ends up in conflicts and quarrels.

2) Have constructive conversations. Stop engaging in conversations of retribution, revenge, and closure, even when you are in listening mode. Ask yourself: what kind of conversation am I not having with another person, and why? Remember that a good conversation in a bad frame of mind is a bad conversation. It’s time to reconnect!

Remember that each of us conceives life in different ways, but as Antoine de St-Exupéry said: “If you differ from me, my brother, far from harming me, you enrich me.” I’ll leave you to ponder this.


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