Respect looks different to different individuals, of course. But I’m particularly fascinated by how generational differences influence our concept of respectful behavior in the workplace.
During a recent generational diversity workshop, I asked the participants to share their pet peeves on the topic. One Boomer woman was painfully candid about hers; she said, “If you’re younger than me, I don’t perceive you as an equal. So I expect you to call me Mrs. so-and-s0, and if you don’t, I can’t hear anything you say after that.”
As I learned reading the class evaluation sheets later, some people admired her for so clearly and boldly explaining her thinking to us, and others were offended by what she said. My own feeling is that while she might have found a more diplomatic way to express her feelings, if we don’t all learn to put this sort of information on the table with our teammates and colleagues, the negative impact on workplace culture and performance is very real. Many of us do stop listening once we perceive that we’ve been “dissed”, and teammates that aren’t listening to each other aren’t performing at their best.
So how do you get teams to have these sorts of conversations? Here are some thoughts:
- Set up a framework within which to discuss it. A class on generational difference is a perfect example, but there are other ways to do it. Hold a round robin at the beginning of a team meeting, for example, in which people are asked to share “pet peeves” that may be impacting the norms of the team or the effectiveness of communication.
- Make it safe to discuss it. As a leader or facilitator of a team, talk about the differences in views about respectful behavior in a way that makes it clear you are not placing value judgments on behavior, but merely exploring differences.
- Give examples that help people see how common it is for the picture of respectful behavior to change over time. Talking about how a member of the Traditionalist generation might set up a meeting (formally, in advance, by written request) in comparison with how a Gen Y might set up a meeting (informally, by dropping in on someone) can paint a clear picture for teammates that helps them see beyond their own hot buttons.
As a trainer and facilitator, I try to learn model these ideas. For example, in my generation we always considered it standard to lay a ground rule before a session: turn your pagers and cell phones to vibrate and put away your laptops and PDA’s. One thing I’ve learned recently about Gen Y is that they’re multi-taskers, and just because they’re texting away doesn’t mean that they’re not listening. In fact, they might even be taking notes from the class on their PDA’s. I no longer have a rule like that; now I just ask them to “stay engaged with the class”, and leave it up to them as to what engagement looks like.
What examples do you have of respectful or disrespectful behaviors as influenced by generational perspectives? I’d especially like to hear any that relate to conducting training sessions or facilitating meetings.