Can't We All Just Get Along?

Let's get something straight. Disdain for a young, upcoming generation by an older, dominant generation is not a new phenomenon. The last go-around was between the civic-minded GI Generation and the rebellious Baby Boomers. The storyline of generational change may be different this time, but the sentiment survives.

As America has awoken to a new upcoming generation, age-based bashing has become all too commonplace. The latest targets are the members of Generation Y. The latest buzz-worthy story was in USA Today last month. The article is about research conducted by Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. The thesis of the story is that social networks make Gen Y narcissistic. While a thoughtful discussion about the research methodology may be in order, my bigger concern is about the underlying sentiment. Essentially, there is a "problem" with these young people.

I don't believe there is a problem with the people; there is a problem with the discussion. If we can get beyond the disdain and the negative commentary, then we may get somewhere. Bashing the upcoming generation is simply a disservice. They are who they are.



Since the goal of this column is to enable all of us to learn more about Generation Y, I want to suggest three ideas to keep in mind.

1 - If you want to engage in a conversation with Gen Y, then start by listening.

Generation Y is marked by an interest in sharing their opinions and preferences. If the news feeds on Facebook are a bit overwhelming, try another approach. In-person conversations seem old fashioned, but they are remarkably effective. If you are managing Gen Ys, then do your best to ask them how they feel. If you want them to buy your product, ask them to help you create it.

2 - Members of Gen Y tend to be confident -- use it to your advantage.

Sometimes when I speak with people who manage Gen Yers, they plainly state that they don't like the generation. "It is full of entitled individuals who don't show adequate respect." It may be true. However, most of the hubris comes from a place of confidence. Generally speaking, this is a generation of people who grew up working towards and achieving goals. If you want to teach, mentor, or manage them, leverage the confidence. Give them a task that seems too big, and then see if they can handle it. If they can, then you have another strong team member. If they cannot, well, life is full of lessons.

3 - Gen Y likes their parents.

It's true. Our research shows that parents are among the most influential people in the life of a Gen Yer, even when they are living away from home and are in their 20s and 30s. This is not a generation that was raised to rebel against their parents. They genuinely like them and rely upon them. Don't be afraid to leverage that relationship. If you want to sell something to Gen Yers, then try exploring the unique dynamics between Boomers and Yers.

Last, but most certainly not least, don't bend so much that you break. Sometimes a thoughtful discussion may be out of the question. So in the words of my mother, "If you can't say something nice, then maybe you shouldn't say anything at all."

5 comments about "Can't We All Just Get Along? ".
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  1. Ruth Barrett from, September 4, 2009 at 12:40 p.m.

    Problems are news, solutions are not. How much of this supposed "not getting along" serves marketing folks, many of whom make money solving problems?

  2. paul myers, September 4, 2009 at 1:31 p.m.


  3. Sabrina Brookfield from The Gemological Institute of America, September 4, 2009 at 2:47 p.m.

    I really liked the tone of this message and feel that it applies to us as parents as well.

  4. Mandy Vavrinak from Crossroads Communications, LLC, September 4, 2009 at 3:48 p.m.

    "I don't believe there is a problem with the people; there is a problem with the discussion." > Lindsay, I'll agree that we really have no choice but to accept that for better or worse, Gen Yers (and all generations) are what they are. And, that reframing discussions to be more about solutions than problems makes a lot of sense. But (as a late Gen Xer, I'm 37), I think there is some truth to the idea that the basic "confident" attitude of Gen Yers can be offensive to those older folks in the workplace who have confidence based on proven experience rather than confidence based on being raised to just believe in oneself.
    I believe in self-esteem, too, and try to encourage it in my children, while still allowing them to fail and learn the value of hard work, too. This discussion isn't going to go away... it can't. Too much depends on learning to, as you say, Just Get Along.

  5. John Faulkner from The Drew Morgan Company, September 4, 2009 at 5:16 p.m.

    When I am managing an event and need to delegate responsibility, I don't choose the staff member that is "confident", but experienced. Sometimes handing a Gen Yer a task that is a stretch for them works out well, but I have found that there is a "whatever" attitude if something is not performed correctly. This is completely unacceptable. Teaching and mentoring yes, allowing less-than-expected results, no. It is a process that I need to remember I went through. A big sigh sometimes is the best reaction to someone feels entitled. it all starts in the hiring process and a clear communication of goals and expectations. They had better learn because someday they will be managing the event! I can't go on forever!

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