You're the first Millennial brought on board at your place of work.
Your impressive qualifications and resume full of experiences that illustrate you’re ready for the next chapter of your nascent career got you hired. You’re the newest member of the team and now the older workers fear that the “dreaded” Millennial will ruin the already established flow with your technologically obsessed ways.
And who could blame them; Millennials are reshaping the modern workplace.
As the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, recently surpassing Gen Xers, Millennials’ hyper-educated, "let me speak up because I have something to contribute" mindset is causing headaches for the mixed generational teams they are apart of and the traditional Boomers in power.
That's why, even though Millennials bring value in the way that they view the world to any workplace, it takes some time before a Baby Boomer workplace recognizes what exactly a Millennial can bring to the table.
As a Millennial myself, who is a CEO of a negotiation and conflict resolution training company, I’ve had to learn how to tactfully navigate the various stereotypes and mischaracterizations that are constantly hurled at our generation to survive and thrive in my industry. In trying to cut business deals, or find collaborators for projects, these are the six rules I follow that have helped me succeed:
RECOGNIZE THE STEREOTYPES
It pays to learn how others perceive you, even if the perceptions themselves aren't true.
People classify others within the first ten seconds of meeting others. And because you’re a part of a generation with some nasty stereotypes, it’s better to know how others will perceive you from the get-go.
You probably already know that we're considered entitled, lazy, technology-obsessed, and over-educated. The list is actually quite endless. People love to classify us and our behaviors, both negatively and positively, in an effort to understand what makes our generation tick.
It is up to you, however, to recognize how your behaviors fall in line with these stereotypes, especially if you are to be successful at your place of work.
LEVERAGE THE STEREOTYPES
Don't take the stereotypes or comments older generations make towards you personally. They simply don’t understand where you’re coming from or why it is you do things the way that you do. You may just have to teach them to see you differently.
You can always reframe a negative stereotype into a potential opportunity.
Take for instance the traditional work or group meeting. What might be perceived and labeled as “entitled behavior” by a Boomer, because you decide to speak up and offer a new way of doing something when other, more senior people stay quiet, is actually a strength: bringing different innovative ideas or perspectives to the table is why employers are hiring Millennials in the first place.
The problem arises with how you vocalize this, especially when there are other senior members that believe you should "wait your turn." Our greatest benefit, however, is that the Millennial generation wants results now, which if leveraged and vocalized appropriately can actually lead to great business benefits for your current employer.
RESPECT THE PEOPLE IN POWER
We intimidate those in power - pure and simple.
Fully acknowledging this, and incorporating it into your understanding of how to navigate a Boomer-centric workplace, will be the difference between your success and failure.
Whenever you have a potential idea you want to contribute, or an issue pops up with an older co-worker, defer to the thinking that your hyper-educated, technically obsessed ways do not sit well with those higher up. This should be your first thought going into the situation. Then, once you recognize that, read into the situation to see whether or not what you have to say will even be heard in the first place.
Because if it won't, what's the use?
Boomers came of age during a time when traditional power and social structures were respected and revered. Status was much more important to them than to Millennials. You’ll need to learn to respect that, to find wisdom in their lived experience (they have lived longer than you after all!), and listen more. Which, trust me, will gain you more respect points down the line and, when the time comes for you to finally speak, they’ll actually want to listen to you.
OWN YOUR MISTAKES
More and more I need to tell client this: please own your mistakes! You're young, early in your career, and bound to make a mistake or two; just don't make a habit out of it.
By owning your mistakes and acknowledging that you do indeed have a ways to go in your own professional development, Boomers will be more apt to trust you because you're taking responsibility for your duties and role. Which, to them, is a grown up thing to do. Shocker!
Millennials falsely believe that doing this will put them at a unique disadvantage in the workplace, negatively impacting their career prospects. But for the older generations the reverse is true. This means they can actually trust you, because no one is 100% perfect, and owning your mistakes gives you the added benefit of teaching you lessons early on in your career that you will not want to repeat again!
It can often seem like the generations are speaking a totally difference language.
The truth is that they are, and that's okay! Recognizing these differences, and how each generation chooses to communicate, is key to thriving in a mixed-generation workplace.
Truthfully, what makes each generational cohort unique is what ultimately leads to innovation and better business results in the long run.
Millennials prefer emojis and text or private messenger to stay in contact with friends and even business partners, while older generations overwhelmingly prefer phone and email. Millennials are energetic, not afraid to challenge authority, and, if comfortable and in a trusting environment, highly opinionated. The older generations prefer to save face, hide emotions, and rather not discuss sensitive issues in an open matter.
Is it any wonder there is a clash of personalities between the generations when they communicate so differently?
Yet these differences don't have to be polarizing. Instead, recognize that they'll happen and know which communication pattern you'll have to resort to if and when a difficult situation arises in your workplace to achieve resolution.
ASSERT YOURSELF RESPECTFULLY
You'll have to speak up eventually. Just don’t get caught in the trap, because of how you request or vocalize something, that you’ll be perceived as entitled because of it.
Asserting yourself respectfully is a skill learned with practice. If there is an issue that comes up, bring it up respectfully as an issue to be resolved collaboratively with the person affected. Or, if you have an idea that you feel needs to be said, respect the power structures, show deference, and frame it as a business benefit if implemented.
In my own business dealings, I have learned that backing up any claim or request with data for why the business would benefit greatly increased the odds that I would be brought on or used as a resource. Better yet, it showed that I did my homework beforehand and was prepared - something they could come to expect from me.
Other potential ways of respectfully asserting yourself in the workplace could mean being proactive in the measures you take when it comes to an issue or idea. As in the case of one client, who had recently been brought on as a real estate analyst for a private equity firm, he built a new website for the properties that weren’t selling in order to showcase to his boss why it was a good move to invest in a new website offering. His boss loved it, and thanked him for taking the initiative!
Like that, you’ll have to learn the skill of reading situations, grabbing opportunities that might not be apparent, and taking charge. But, as in all things Millennial, be respectful about it and don’t take it personally if your boss ultimately shuts down your idea.
Bottom Line: surviving in a Boomer-centric workplace requires tact, respect for the power structures already in place, and knowing how to use those Millennial stereotypes to your advantage. By correcting erroneous perceptions, and leveraging them instead as a benefit, your workplace will ultimately see why they brought you on – and will want to keep you too!