Generational judgment? Or inquiry?


I’m in a hotel in Philadelphia, gearing up to facilitate a few days of generational exploration, when I glance at an article in the USA Today featuring a harnessed set of horses hauling a wagon. Now, I’m a sucker for equines and I dearly love draft horses.  I’m captured.

Apparently in Wisconsin they’re using teams of magnificent Belgians to haul cell phone towers up steep, rural mountainsides too impassable for modern-day vehicles.

It beautifully illustrates the collision – make that collaboration – of generations.

I tend to think of draft horses as representative of the Traditionalist Generation (1920-1945), which epitomizes solid, dependable, old-fashioned, old-school approaches and thinking.

Cell towers, on the other hand, bring to mind the cutting edge, connected, modern-day, technological flash of the 24/7 connected generation: Millennials (1981-2000).

And now, although we automatically expect technology – faster, digital, electronic – to be invincible, it’s surprisingly stymied because it can’t get up the hill to do what it’s supposed to do. Connect us.

How fitting, then, that the traditionalist draft horse steps in to make it all work. Old and new, working collaboratively together. There’s a lesson in there. We work in an age-diverse workplace and live in an age-diverse country.  Progress results when we collaborate, trust, respect, honor, and think without judgment.

A thought-provoking topic, would you agree? And here I am, hoping it will portend three days of thought-provoking group coaching. I won’t be disappointed.

Together, we discover generational stereotypes and then begin pulling the threads for creating a collaborative work space where generations learn to dance together without colliding.

Did you know, for example, that there are now four generations working together? The Traditionalists (World War II and the Great Depression), the Baby Boomers (changing the workplace and now, changing retirement), Generation X (I’m-in-hurry-don’t-stop-me-now), and Millennials (Do this job? OK. Done already).

Here’s another eye-opener: in a few years, provided Traditionalists hang out in the workplace, there will be FIVE generations as those born after 2000 begin arriving (actually, the oldest is 16; some are already here).

Five generations working together. Think of family gatherings with five different generations.  Yikes!  For some of us that’s chaotic (though heavenly).  It’s a workplace of grandparents, parents, children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren … each of whom does – BELIEVES it should do – things differently. Admit it. Sometimes the generations before or after us are puzzling enigmas. Let me translate that for you: Not. Like. Us.

Anyway, in our sessions the point is to first recognize those generational stereotypes – accurate or no – in our own thinking precisely so we can begin to look past them with curiosity. Who are these individuals rather than these caricatures?  Pretty soon our fingers are no longer pointing in judgment, but are held out in inquiry:

  • How does that ever-present cell phone help you communicate? What’s awesome about that?
  • What’s so great about face-to-face communication, and what’s awesome about that?
  • Rules? Traditions? Paying dues? I can see why that’s important. Let me explain why I think I’ve already done some of that, even though I’m young.
  • How hard it must have been to have to work for rights – civil and equality. Thanks for that, by the way, you made our road a little easier.
  • So I know I said this generation is lazy, but you say you work smarter, faster, and still get done what needs to be done. Show me how that works.

And that’s the reward, isn’t it? To watch as these diverse, marvelous generations discover the motivations behind behaviors, knock down misperceptions, and realize that we’re all just different.

I never tire of watching the awareness ripple through the room. We just have different paths up the mountain, none any better or any worse.  It’s a whole lot of messy, sloppy, communication that soon gives way to a mass cleansing of generational filters.  We see one another as individuals – and realize we can learn from one another if we step out of judgment and into inquiry.

Sometimes, it takes a yoked pair of gorgeous Belgian draft horses hauling a cell tower up a mountain to bring it all home.

One thought on “Generational judgment? Or inquiry?

  1. Lynda says:

    “Sometimes, it takes a yoked pair of gorgeous Belgian draft horses hauling a cell tower up a mountain to bring it all home. “Boy, doesn’t it just?! Thank you for sharing your insights (and suggestions) in such accessible ways, Jen; it’s a treat to read your posts!

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