On a recent phone call with my 35 year old daughter, she shared with me some of her frustrations around her job, training lab personnel at a very large organization in the medical field.
As I see it, what it boiled down to was this: Older, established administrative staff dismissing ideas from younger staff that are in the proverbial trenches, doing the work.
I’ve always believed that we each have much to learn from people of different generations, and it would behoove us to spend time with those that are both younger and older than us. When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with someone outside of your own generation?
Intergenerational connections are good for our health, both mental and physical. One of my closest friends is a generation behind me, not a big difference, but enough that we may have different viewpoints. We walk together, both for the exercise it gives us as well as the mental health boost. I learn from her perspective, and (I hope) she learns from mine. Plus I’m keeping up with a much younger (and much taller) walking partner, so it’s a win all the way around.
We can all learn from others lived experiences. Intergenerational connections help us to understand and value those that are not like us. In the workplace, where there is unprecedented age diversity, communications between generations create a more welcoming environment, one where everyone feels respected and included. At home, families stay active and engaged. Different perspectives offer more solutions to challenges, whether at work or at home.
The key to making intergenerational connections work is to stay open, non-judgmental and curious. That pretty much sounds like mindfulness to me. But you have to be intentional as well. Make a plan to connect. There are many ways for you to foster these connections, and online tools to help:
Intergenerational focused programs
These are many programs that are specifically aimed at connecting generations. Here are two:
- CoGenerate has several programs that connect generations so that they can learn from each other, solve problems and bridge divides. I love their ideas on 10 ways to CoGenerate.
- Generations United is another organization that “works to improve the lives of children, youth and older people through intergenerational collaboration, public policies and programs for the enduring benefit of all.” (from their Mission statement). They believe that bringing the generations together offers a unique voice in public debate.
Start your own program
There are so many programs you can model after. Check out this study from students at Oberlin College. It’s a “Grandfriends” program at Oberlin’s Early Learning Center and would be something to duplicate at a school near you with out too much difficulty. Reach out to pre-schools and elementary schools to engage and enlist.
Make it a point to talk with someone from a different generation
I love doing this at gatherings, especially because it gives me something to do while staying out of the fray of the larger group. I’m fascinated by the stories other generations have to share.
Travel with someone from a different generation
When my family was younger, we took my dad on a trip with us. It gave me a whole different perspective. I can’t wait to take my grandkids on a trip. Enlist them in the process and planning from the beginning, and be open to what they want to do. You might find some new favorite activity or learn some things you never would have otherwise.
Do the interview
This is another one that’s making it to my “to-do” list. Everyone has a story to tell and StoryCorps makes it easy. If you listen to NPR, you may have heard of them and some of the shared stories. They’ve been around for 20 years and have helped more than 640,000 people share their stories and leave a legacy. They even have sample questions to use in your interview. I intend to interview my grandson sometime soon.
Read all about it
A quick Google search will find many good books about intergenerational communications. I had the pleasure of helping at a conference where Raven Solomon gave a keynote address. Her book, Leading Your Parents, is a glimpse in to leading diverse groups in the business world, but much of it can cross over into your personal life as well.
Connect at work
Education yourself on how each generation communicates. For instance, generally speaking, Millennials like authentic and fast communication, through brief, efficient, preferably digital means. Then respect that form of communication. That’s not to say that in person or live video meetings don’t have their place. Just be sure to use them for meetings that require more engagement. Find what works best for each generation.
Consider different ways you can connect with those both older and younger than you, then make a plan to go out and make it happen.