By Phyllis Wiss Haserot
This is part of a series of regular columns by generational expert and internationally known consultant, coach, writer, and speaker Phyllis Weiss Haserot on intergenerational relations and navigating the challenges of the multi-generational workplace for better productivity, retention, succession planning, and business development results.
Here is a question I was asked (as the generational guru) to respond to on the listserve of a 600-member networking organization to which I. Since the response to my answer (below) generated much positive discussion, I decided to share it with you. It's basic networking that people often shy away from.
Q. "How do I break the ice when networking with a much younger group? I have recently been attending events with professionals much younger than myself and would love some tips about feeling comfortable when there is a very obvious age difference."— A Boomer
In response to this very good and not uncommon question about how she can feel more comfortable networking with the younger generations X and Y/Millennials, how to approach them and talk with them at an event, here are my thoughts:
A. I really don't have problems in those situations, so I've reflected on why that is, besides the fact that over the last dozen years or so I have become steeped in generational attributes, relationships, challenges, and benefits from age diversity. Clearly acquiring that knowledge and awareness helps.
But fundamentally, networking and dealing with people of different generations from our own is similar to the recipe for any kind of successful networking with a few twists.
- Have a sincere interest in the other people.
- If you really want to learn about their interests, how you can help them, what makes them tick, it will show. If you are bored and uncomfortable, that will show too. Ask questions about them with enthusiasm.
Generational DefinitionsHere are some quick definitions. Generations are defined by the similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, economic – that existed as the individuals of particular birth cohorts were growing up. Given that premise, the age breakdowns for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are approximately:
Traditionalists born 1925-1942
Baby Boomers born 1943-1962
Generation X born 1963-1978
Generation Y/Millennials born 1979-1998 (under age 30 today)
Here's what Generations X and Y/Millennials want basically:
- To feel important
- To be heard
- To have their ideas sought out
- To feel respected and valued
- To feel you enjoyed the conversation
- To sense your authenticity
When you are networking, if there are people you know in the room, introduce the young people to them and make those people feel comfortable by giving a snippet about them to lay a foundation for common ground or a conversation starter.
Also offer to introduce your new young acquaintance to people you know outside the event. They are hungry to build their networks and learn from experienced people, and your offer shows you respect them and the value they might bring to an older person.
Don't worry about having to be an expert in their music, sports, or other interests if you don't really care to be. That's inauthentic and they will pick up on it.
Does this make sense?
One of the keys is to get outside yourself and feel excited by what you can learn about and from each new person you meet. It's a state of mind that you can adopt if it doesn't come naturally. I am lucky that it does come naturally to me. I feel fortunate to have many good friends who are much younger than I am and love their company and hanging out with their friends. We energize each other, and it's a great feeling.
I encourage all of you to approach me with your inter-generational relations challenges (workplace or business-focused ones). I am happy to address them. I love this stuff!
Please share your thoughts.
© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2010. All rights reserved.
Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the president of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching firm she founded over 20 years ago, A special focus is on the profitability of improving inter-generational relations and transitioning planning for baby boomer senior partners (www.nextgeneration-nextdestination.com). Phyllis is the author of “The Rainmaking Machine" and “The Marketer’s Handbook of Tips & Checklists” (both West 2009). [email protected]. URL: www.pdcounsel.com.