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5 Ways to Talk to Gen Y

The culture is changing.

Give me a break, I know that. I have a 15 year old who goes to high school in New York City, I don’t need a management text book to tell me.

So what really is changing?

Tonality, rhythm, language, attitude, and pace. The cultural nuances, the pace, and the mannerisms we use to carry out our work have shifted.

A new casualness, flow, and intensity, is setting in.

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure how to put my hands around it. I can’t say concretely how it has shifted, but I do know that the tonality is different.

Leaders often isolate themselves from the subtle cultural shifts that occur around them. It’s a fatal flaw that creates a gap between leaders and the people working for them.

The challenge for leaders is to get the culture of the moment while respecting past accomplishments and anticipating future attitudes.  It’s the reason why great presidents sweat over every line in their speeches, debates, and policy discussions. They want to be clear, inspiring, considerate, and, above all, human.

Some of them fail. Others are masters of embodying new tones and rhythms.

It’s even harder for leaders who have to motivate Generation Y team members who admire and operate with new tones and rhythms.

But there are a few things leaders can remember when they are talking to new generations that will always gain them respect and legitimacy.

1. Don’t be Paternal: Leaders aren’t parents. It is fine to be cautious, worried, and helpful to Gen Y team members, but it’s another thing to talk down to them and refuse to give them challenges. Treat younger staff members like adults and they’ll act like adults. Treat them like children and you’ll be running a daycare.

2. Don’t be Dismissive of Lingo: Be respectful and mindful of new trends, catchphrases, and words. Leaders don’t have to parrot slang in order to fit in, but they should be able to follow a conversation with a younger team member without feeling lost.

3. Don’t Confuse Spontaneity for Lack of Substance: Gen Y team members are capable of planning their careers and thinking about their futures. They’re always looking for ways to burnish their resumes. It’s a bad idea to assume that they are always bumbling around the office making mistakes. A lot of the Gen Y team members are trying their hardest to do a good job and earn respect and accolades.

4. Don’t be Intimidated: You’re older, have more experience, and have seen what makes something successful and what doesn’t. You might not know how new technologies work, but you know how people operate. Don’t ever discount yourself.

5. Don’t Try to Be 25: Too many times we see older leaders trying to dress, talk, and act like their younger colleagues and it’s embarrassing. Clothes and trends don’t buy respect—action does. Worry less about fitting in and more about coaching and leading for success.



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