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Deborah Grayson Riegel Headshot

FWIW (For What It's Worth): Don't Judge Me By My Generation

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"Why don't people just speak to each other anymore? Why do you have to text when you can talk? What happened to having a regular conversation?"

I'm not surprised that these sentiments exist. I'm also not surprised that these sentiments were expressed to me, about me. But you might be surprised to learn that these sentiments were expressed by my daughter Sophie, who is 13 years old -- a member of a generation who seem to have cell phones permanently attached to their hands.

And while Sophie may seem like an outlier among her digital native peers, her comments serve as a good reminder for any of us who want to know how to better understand, better relate to and work (or live) more effectively with people from different generations. We can certainly learn some of the characteristics, defining moments and values of each generation, but that's no substitute for taking the time to getting to know the characteristics, defining moments and values of the actual individual people themselves.

So what do we think we know about the generations?

Traditionalists (born before 1946) tend to be loyal, fiscally conservative and a bit out of touch.
Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1965) usually respect hierarchies, value consensus and wrestle with technology.
Gen X (born between 1966-1980) are seen as pragmatic, informal and cynical.
Millenials (born between 1981-2000) are collaborative, confident and disloyal.

Is there some truth in those trends? Yes, that's likely. Does understanding what historical moments -- from the Great Depression to Columbine -- have impacted the outlook of a generation offer us some useful insight? Probably. And does recognizing how the development of and access to technology, from radio to Snapchat, can influence our co-workers' comfort level and interest? Sure.

If you look at any of the above generalities, chances are you can name several people for whom those descriptors are right on the money. But I'll also bet that you can identify other people you live or work with where those adjectives are close, but no cigar. (A phrase, by the way, that originated in 1935. I originated in 1972.)

But all of these generational themes are a place to start the dialogue. They're not where the dialogue should end.

Each of us, regardless of generation, want to be understood, valued and appreciated. The research on what each generation tends to believe, how they tend to operate in the workplace, and what they tend to value can be useful when we use it as a springboard for ongoing inquiry and engagement. Questions like "What do you look for in a company?", "How do you like to be rewarded?" and "What's the best way for me to communicate with you?" respect the possibility that there will be some generational similarities and that there will be individual differences that deserve to be recognized.

You deserve that, don't you? No matter how old -- or young -- you are.

Of course, that's just IMHO (In My Humble Opinion).