Communication across generations – Part 3: A good coach can help if you are willing to learn

Taking advantage of a mentor or coach in the workplace from a different generation can benefit you.

A benefit to having multiple generations in the workplace is the ability to pass on the knowledge gained from experiences. In addition, company culture, new innovative practices and technology can be shared. This can go both ways between younger and older generations. For example, older workers coming into a new career or younger generations just entering can be taught the values and terminology of the organization. Technology and trade secrets can be shared. Skills can be passed along and new techniques can be brought on board. This back and forth sharing of insight and intellect can look like a tennis match, but with both benefiting from the volley. Learning not to make the same mistakes and getting up to speed quickly can benefit productivity and morale in the workplace.

As I was starting my high school teaching career, there was a teacher that was in his last year before retirement. He had been teaching for 30 years. I was young and starting in this new field and wished to be able to somehow have him dump all his knowledge and experience into my head before he left. Although Paul and I were able to spend some time that final year discussing the teaching profession, and I was able to gain a little of that knowledge, I know there was much more I could have attained from him. Yet, that brief experience paid great dividends and it can for you too by taking advantage of a mentor or coach.

These teammates, coaches or mentors can be found in the workplace and in different generations. I was grateful for Paul warning me of the pitfalls and instilling in me the “tricks of the trade” to make my teaching experience that much more enjoyable and fulfilling. It was such valuable knowledge from someone that experienced it firsthand and he was willing to teach as much as I was willing to learn.

Willing to tutor, teach or mentor is beneficial for any generation. The passing along of knowledge in the field or craft is such an asset, but it must be accepted by both parties. The teacher must want to instill their knowledge and the student must be willing to be taught. Setting up the workplace or teams with good chemistry and an understanding of their roles is key. In a Clearinghouse article, “Generational issues in the workplace,” Steele and Gordan from The Ohio State University highlight the generational issue in the workplace and the benefits to working for the common good.

Michigan State University Extension suggests that all generations should be willing to learn and try new things. Older generations may struggle with this more. As the old saying goes, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” However, if the older generations are open to learning something new, say technology, then an understanding, younger person will need to reach out and be accepting and nonjudgmental. I was able to guide Paul on new processes with electronic gradebooks. With this diverse workforce, many of our technological upbringings vary. And it’s not just teaching technology, it’s teaching the trade, the craft or the culture of the industry. All generations need to accept each other for where they are at. They need to be willing to mentor each other and try new things. A willingness to continue to learn will be an asset for all generations.

Finally, you can’t assume. As stated earlier, these are guidelines to be used in the workplace and you will need to get to know the individuals you are working with. Find their strengths and what they bring to the table, how they like to communicate and what they value. It’s also OK to bring differences up. Talk about these differences and be willing to accept them and work with them. The younger generations tend to be more accepting of this, but again all generations need to be accepting. Knowing the facts and generational differences myths can help.

This cross-training and sharing of knowledge can not only benefit yourself, but also enhance your place of work. Seeing different generations working together effectively can be a fun match to watch and fun place to work.

For more information on generational differences, review the generational differences charts from the West Midland Family Center or contact your local MSU Extension office. MSU Extension will also be hosting a Generational Differences Workshop May 5, 2016, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Detroit YouthVille Office, 7375 Woodward Avenue, Suite 1520, Detroit, MI, 48202. Participants will learn how to better understand the different perspectives of various generations and how these differences impact work style, communication, goals and outlooks. For more information on this workshop, visit the Generational Differences Event page.

Other articles in this series

Did you find this article useful?