How To Tweak Your Talk To Bolster Your Work With Younger Colleagues

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Innovation often flows from collaboration among people with different views and skill sets. In today’s workplace, one way in which managers are learning to foster creative thinking is by partnering expert professionals aged 45+ with tech- and social media-savvy 20-somethings.

As Kerry Hannon wrote in a recent New York Times article, entrepreneurs are among those finding the power of multi-generational partnerships. Boomers are launching start-up businesses at an amazing rate, and some are looking to younger family members to co-lead their enterprises.

Work teams that cut across generations have so much potential that it’s a shame the trend isn’t building even faster. One barrier to cooperation across the decades is that people of different ages communicate in different ways. In response to my recent post on reciprocal mentoring, a few readers seemed to doubt that a real dialogue is even possible. And, let’s face it, sometimes Boomers and Millennials find each other boring.

Recently I was talking with a group of Boomer friends about the tedious conversational patterns of our age cohort. In particular, we all confessed to indulging in prolonged accounts of our various aches and pains. We bore even each other with this kind of talk and could drive a Millennial out of the room. So we invented a game to remind each other to avoid annoying old person talk:

  • Code Blue (for blue hair) is our signal to break the habit of complaining about sore body parts. I’m not talking about a serious talk with a dear friend about health challenges. Rather, the goal is to resist the temptation to mention your sore back or sleepless night when the conversation should focus on something else. In you want to play, empower your friend or partner to give you a gentle “Code Blue” reminder, should you rant about the state of your body.
  • Code Green is a signal I wanted to use while eavesdropping on the next table at the local bistro. There, a prosperous looking young couple was buying dinner for the man’s mother, a woman of about 60+. Instead of expressing appreciation for the great choices, Mom embarrassed her son by going through the menu loudly complaining about the prices. When the waiter took her order, she said, “Well what I really want is the swordfish, but I’d never let him pay that much, so bring me the pasta.” When your spouse once again shares the discovery that prices have gone up since 1984, offer a gentle reminder: “Code Green.”
  • Code Golden Harvest is the contribution of our friend Paula Miller, who says it drives her crazy when people interrupt a conversation about something current with yet another story of what it was like back in the day. “Golden Harvest” was a wildly popular color for appliances and décor from the 60s into the 80s. But there’s a reason people stopped using it and we’re all still tired of it. If you know you tend to reminisce when future thinking is what’s needed, let your colleagues know it’s OK to call a Code Golden Harvest.
  • Code Sparkles is what Merry Foresta suggests we use to remind each other to enjoy the moment. It will come in handy if your friend decides to eat cake at the office birthday party, but accompanies every bite with a monologue about the calorie count and evil impact of sweets. Merry – an art museum visionary who works well with colleagues of all ages – says the trick is to stay fully engaged and enjoy what you’re actually doing right now. If you choose to eat cake, do it with gusto, enjoying every moment. If you can’t manage engagement, at least stop talking, so others have a chance to stay in the flow.

Upon reflection, perhaps Code Sparkles says it all. The people most able to partner across functional, age or other lines are those who stay focused on what’s happening now. They put aside their complaints and recollections and listen intently. That’s what I want to do, and it’s OK if sometimes you remind me.

Beverly Jones is an alum of Ohio University. Her column appears at Clearways Consulting LLC. Republshed with permission. For archives and additional content, visit the Clearways Consulting website.