Millenials, Boomers and Generation Generalizations

I just read a really interesting post about Millenials and Boomers working together and how they might interact. AtGeneration Gap the core of the discussion seems to be the sense of difference between age groups – its a hot topic as the two largest age groups seem to be sniffing around claiming territory. The old guys that refuse to age gracefully and the new guys who want their place in the sun. The post by Travis Robertson, a really bright young guy from Nashville (who I met recently at ReTechSouth where we were both presenting) tells the following story recounted by Bobbi Howe, a Realtor from Missouri and a good friend of mine.

Bobbi recently moderated a panel called Bridging the Gap (Gen X/Y) at a big event called Sell-a-bration. After the session was over, a gentleman in his 60′s approached her and recounted a story of a female Millennial in his company who told him, “I can learn everything I need to off the internet and you cannot teach me anything.”

Bobbi brought the question to Travis to see if he had heard of similar stories, since he is a millennial who works with millenials, and she is a Gen Xer – I guess to her the statement seemed arrogant and rude, and she wanted to see if that was a trend. Travis makes the point that Millenials can Google information and therefore don’t value other generations for the facts they know, but should consider the benefits Millennials can obtain from the life and business experience of Boomers. The post is well written, well thought out and makes logical points about  generational differences and how individuals might bridge the gap between the two groups. Though I’ve only recently met Travis, I really like him and consider him a new friend. Bobbi is a close friend with a special place in my heart – and all of us come from different generations. I believe that we share more values in common than we can find values that separate us, and though I like the post and agree with much of what Travis says – it demonstrates a problem. Generational discussion takes us down the wrong road. Any discussion that generalizes our behavior towards individuals based on their age, and like any generalizations begins by being a faulted process because we are all individuals. In the comments of the post, my friend Jeff Turner ( who is not a millenial ) starts his comment by saying :

“Travis, as I read this I’m not struck by the difference between the generations, I’m struck by the similarities”

And there lies the key to better relationships with people of any generation. From the perspective of age its easier to see that an individual’s epiphany might be likened to opening a door to find a new room. The room has been there, its only in the eyes of the person experiencing the discovery process that is makes the room appear new. Millenials are not the first to  feel that they have a better perspective than their older colleagues. The very term Generation Gap is a term coined in the 1960s. Obviously the students of the 60’s (darn Boomers again) felt the same way as did the politically active youth of the 1930’s , and probably every other large youth movement. In another recent post online , Bernice Ross  writes about the difference between the role of “trusted adviser” for Boomers and a “Trusted Resource” for Gen X and Y stating:

In the more traditional Trusted Adviser Model, the agent often tells the client what to do. The challenge is that most people want to be in charge of their own decision-making. The Trusted Resource Model establishes the agent as a conduit of information. The agent’s role is to provide the best information possible so that the buyer or seller can make the best decision possible.

Perhaps I have a problem with Bernice’s explanation of the selling process because of the years I spent actually selling real estate instead of advising others. I always presented my clients with their alternatives and asked them what they wanted to do. It was only when I was asked for my advice that I offered it. After all, no matter what the generation of the buyer or the salesperson, you need  to earn the trust of a consumer before they ask for, or are interested in, your advice. In her post again, the generational “difference” became the focus of the  process instead of the generational similarities.

I understand the desire to find generational keys to the kingdom. People want to find simple ways to interact with others. They look for guidelines and checklists and roadmaps to help them sort out interactions with others to achieve their goals and avoid failure. Its human nature to seek the easy way when we can, and nothing demonstrates that more than the plethora of sales books, sales systems, sales trainers and coaches. All of them have something we can use or adapt, but none of them are a substitute for meeting people and dealing with them for who they are – not for who their group would indicate they are. Listening to the spokespeople for a generation, or learning about the forces impacting a specific generation can be important, but it can lead us to be overconfident in dealing with them.  Assuming that you know a person because you understand the larger forces pushing on their generation or trends that you see that are age related is a scary assumption.  The danger is relying too completely on the process and not putting the effort into learning about the individual.  The devil here lies not in the details, but in the generalities, because when we know something, we stop putting the effort into learning – and that is where we misstep.

What do you think?

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