By: Misti Burmeister
“If you would thoroughly know anything, teach it to others.”
– Tryon Edwards (1809 – 1894)
“Every day, stubborn pride can and will get in the way of strong leadership relationships across any generational divide. It is the sense of true self-respect and honor that will help bridge the intergenerational gaps, alleviate any fear or prejudice and pave the path to a harmonious leadership environment.”
– Alex Couloumbis
I will never forget what it was like coming out of college and into the workforce. In my naive world, seasoned professionals were supposed to help me. I assumed, first, that they wanted to help me and, second, that I had nothing to offer them.Eventually, I began to see that everyone, regardless of age or experience, needs help in some area. And more importantly, regardless of your age or experience level, you probably have something valuable to offer almost anyone. Requiring assistance is not a bad thing. We simply can’t know how to do everything! People have different experience and different expertise, and sharing that wisdom can make all the difference in the world for someone who needs it.When a young professional mentors an older professional, we often refer to it as “Reverse Mentoring.” What is interesting, however, is that good mentoring uses all the same principles no matter who is mentoring who. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to talk about “Cross-Generational Mentoring,” meaning that people of different generations are mentoring each other.It’s interesting — essentially both younger and older professionals are saying, “Meet me where I am, instead of where you think I ‘should’ be. Assume I mean well (I’m doing the best I can) and be patient with me as I learn.” Seasoned professionals are impatient with young professionals when they don’t understand how the professional world really works (i.e. it’s not likely you will get the corner office in six months — you have to show credibility over time) and young professionals are impatient when it comes to teaching the skills they know so well. Young professionals forget that seasoned professionals didn’t grow up with technology. This misunderstanding leads to making poor assumptions.If you are interested in creating a cross-generational mentoring relationship, it is important to set the stage appropriately, ensuring that both sides understand the strengths they bring to the table. It is also important to be clear about goals, expectations and to recognize the different communication styles, which can sometimes be the biggest challenge of all. For example, Gina, a seasoned professional taking a computer-training program taught by young professionals was frustrated with their impatience. She also felt disrespected by their way of communicating, yet she really wanted to learn from them. If you are in a mentoring relationship with someone of a different generation, recognize they grew up in a different world and, as a result, see the world differently. If they act or react in “inappropriate” ways, don’t take it personally.For a seasoned professional being mentored by a younger professional, simply let them know that while you really want to understand, you don’t, and you need them to slow down.
For a younger professional being mentored by a seasoned professional, it is helpful to articulate your needs and expectations, for they may be different than your mentor has in mind.
If your mentor says something that offends you, again, don’t take it personally. You can help them understand by sharing that saying something in a certain way comes across negatively to you. Remember, by in large, people mean well, but have a different understanding and perspective. The only way they will understand your perspective is for you to share it with them. Here’s a simple way to transform your mentoring conversations:Â· Even if you’re convinced otherwise, realize that they mean well; they just don’t understand how they’re coming across to you.Â· Transform yourself from reacting to responding.( i.e. don’t take it personally)Â· Without feedback, they will never know you are upset. Let them know you recognize they are well meaning in their actions, and share how they are coming across to you in your world.
Â· Help them see a new way to communicate with you that is effective. If you simply say, “You’re not communicating well,” they won’t know what to do differently.
Â· Young professionals often need to slow down so they don’t overwhelm those whom they are mentoring.
Â· Continue learning and growing together, knowing that you have much to offer each other.
In general, help your professionals understand the value of Cross-Generational Mentoring. Young professionals may assume a seasoned person doesn’t want to be helped by them and need to be shown that the opposite true. Both younger and older professionals may come across as impatient (for different reasons), which is why it is essential to understand each other’s needs and orientation to the matters at hand.
When people of different generations communicate effectively, with the goal of understanding each other and why they each see the world the way they do, they are able to move toward their common vision and have much more successful and rewarding interactions.