The Wall Street Journal:
At age 42, Shona Sabnis is one of the “older” workers in the New York office of public-relations firm Edelman. Though she prides herself on being able to get along with most people, she is sometimes puzzled by the actions of her 20-something co-workers who, in turn, don’t understand why the senior vice president of public affairs likes to distribute physical newspaper clippings.
While dealing with a situation at the office, Ms. Sabnis was told by a junior co-worker that she should be handling her client differently. It wasn’t phrased as a suggestion, which surprised her since she knew the co-worker wasn’t that familiar with the account.
She later enlisted a 26-year-old co-worker to help her to get a better sense of where her young co-workers are coming from. He told her about the motivations of individual co-workers and what their expectations were. “I found that I was projecting my reality when I was that age on them and their reality seems very different,” says Ms. Sabnis. “I don’t always assume anymore that I know what they want. Now I ask them if I need to know.” Ms. Sabnis says she feels that she is now able to deal with young co-workers with more understanding.
Start with a clean slate. Don’t let stereotypes color your perception of young co-workers. People tend to act on their beliefs, which makes it difficult to establish productive workplace relationships if you automatically believe, for example, that all 20-somethings are narcissistic or lazy, says Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University who’s written books on successful aging and decision-making.
“People think they should be compromising or tolerant of certain behaviors but, instead, we should be understanding. It is more important to be mindful of an individual’s motivations. Make sense of why people do what they do,” says Ms. Langer. “You might drive behind somebody that is driving slow and be angry because they’re old. But in reality, that individual might be driving as fast as they are capable and it could be dangerous to do otherwise. If you saw what they saw, you’d probably respond the same way.”
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