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Using Emotional Intelligence to Navigate Generational Differences

Lindsay Boccardo
Lindsay Boccardo
I sat down with my 94-year-old grandpa at his kitchen table. The smell of newspaper
and coffee floating in the air. “Hey Poppy, what was Christmas like for you when you
were a kid?” I asked. “Well,” he replied, “we were really excited when we got an orange
in our stocking.”
Pops entered young adulthood during WW2, bought his first house for around $8,000,
watched his son (my Dad) almost get drafted for Vietnam, and finally made it through
the digital revolution.
His life growing up looked a lot different than how things are now. His teachers and
authority figures would hit him when he was disobedient. His parents didn’t have him in
three soccer clinics each summer or worry about being his personal driver for all of his
social activities. His brothers and sisters did their best to survive by working. For them,
working was survival.
No wonder he doesn’t care to understand Instagram.
I have so many perfect memories with Poppy. Feeding the ducks, sitting next to him in
the paddle boat and crashing into lake waves, taking long walks on the beach and
looking for glass that had been worn down and softened by the sand. It felt like a
treasure hunt. To this day, he still sends me pieces of glass he finds.
I am so grateful for him for so many things and love him as Poppy.
But, if he was my boss, we’d have approximately one million miscommunications a day
starting with his resistance to learn how to use the Internet. (He’s 94, give him a break!)
You’ve probably had moments with someone from a different generation, too. Maybe
you were at the grocery and tried to pay with cash and that teenager could not make
change to save their life. Maybe you’re a millennial and your boss is holding onto
outdated practices, like an annual review.
It can be especially frustrating to navigate a professional environment when we grew up
in different worlds with different expectations – particularly around work.
If there was ever a time to build Emotional Intelligence (EQ), this is it. For EVERYONE.
Diversity in the workplace is expanding and even when it’s hard to keep up, one of the
areas we can all grow in is our Emotional Intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize our own emotions and thoughts. It
means we are able to stop in our tracks, recognize our thoughts may not be true to
reality, and be able to switch our perception quickly.
How are we supposed to get better at this, and is it even possible?
Yes. It is possible. It will take some practice, but it will pay off for the rest of your career,
(and your personal life, too)!

Here are three ways that you can raise your EQ today:

1. Check in with your thought life by journaling every day. If you feel stuck, make three columns and label them, “thoughts” “emotions” and “actions.” You’ll quickly see that how these three columns work together and create the environment that we get used to (for better or for worse). There are a lot of benefits to this.
First, you can track your thoughts throughout the year and see which ones you
get stuck on the most. Our thoughts program the quality of our life and
leadership. Do our thoughts reflect frustration and irritation towards the young
employees in the office? Journaling will bring a level of self-awareness that will
begin to impact how you treat them. If you think Millennials and GenZ’s are
entitled, you’ll notice your feelings towards them will be irritation and your actions
will mirror that. You might find yourself rolling your eyes, avoiding them,
complaining about them. I know this won’t come as a surprise, but those
behaviors only make things worse. If we don’t change course, switch our
thoughts, we are lowering our quality of leadership. Young talent will quit if they
think their leaders don’t like them and don’t want to help them grow.
Journaling is also a radical act of listening to yourself. It is an act of kindness and
compassion to yourself. You are telling yourself that you are valuable enough to
stop and listen to. If we want others to pay attention, listen up, and hear our
perspective, let’s do that for ourselves first. The more awareness we have of our
inner landscape, the more powerful we are when we are with others.
2. Listen more. Ask questions with the intention to truly take in someone else’s
perspective, not to confirm your own. Here’s the difference:
“Can you believe Sara said that to her boss!? How disrespectful! Typical
Millennial, ugh, so entitled!”
“Wow, that was out of character for Sara. I wonder what’s going on in her mind.
I’m going to check in on her.”
You could then approach Sara, realizing you have a story in your head, that may or not be true, and putting it in the back seat so Sara can sit shotgun next to you and go for a ride. Let Sara share what she wants to share. You can ask open ended questions like, “You shared some things in that meeting with our boss that I haven’t heard before. And, “I’m curious, how can I be more helpful as a teammate?” Or simply, “What was that meeting like for you?” And then just pause and let Sara talk.
This is where true power comes from. Instead of riding on our own interpretations, we pause, we listen, we learn. We allow people to live in their own universe with their own thoughts and feelings. We will move through issues much quicker versus trying to convince others to see things our way.
3. Practice assuming the best about someone, especially someone that is different than you. Acknowledge that you are different than someone 20 years older or younger than you. You will not see most situations through the same lens. We are all expecting to receive what we did growing up. Our childhood experiences get dragged into the workplace in the form of expectations, whether we like it or not.
If your teacher hit you or embarrassed you in school you can imagine, you are much less likely to push back on authority as an adult. Boomers were raised in a time when they should be seen and not heard. Steer clear, get your work done, if you’re getting paycheck, that’s all the feedback you need.
This is the opposite experience of Millennials. In the workplace, they will report that no news is BAD news. Why? Because they grew up looking to their teachers as their mentors and heroes. Not as someone they should fear. They are used to a feedback rich environment.
So, when a younger employee wants more attention, you have the opportunity to believe the best about them. Instead of assuming they are narcissistic or self-centered, you can assume that they are hungry to grow. Every difference between us doesn’t have to reflect a deep character flaw.
Let me say it one more time. Most challenges between generations have to do more with wildly different expectations, not glaring character flaws.
So, there you go, three relatively simple and inexpensive exercises you can start today. A quick warning though – simple does not mean easy. Doing these activities means that you are open to discomfort and change. I wonder, if we all collectively did this for a month, how different would our work environment be? How much could we decrease the tension in our office? How much more collaborative and productive would we be?
Leadership acumen is now measured by our ability to transform a diverse group of
humans into a cohesive, effective, and empathetic team. It’s not enough to be great at
our craft. What matters just as much is how we impact and affect those around us. Put
simply, how do we want people to feel after they encounter us? That will tell us how
successful we will be in this next decade.
Lindsay Boccardo is a Keynote speaker, Generational Consultant, and serves as a culture coach for forward thinking companies. Connect with Lindsay on LinkedIn here.  Note: This article was previously published on AAHAM magazine.

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