Generational Stereotypes and Conflict Management

April 20, 2017 Sabrah Wilkerson

Generational differences speak loudly in today’s workplace as one of the main reasons for conflict at work.

We walk around with extreme misconceptions and stereotypes regarding generational differences. Yes, the stereotypes are offensive. For example,

  • “Millennials should get a trophy for brushing their hair today and showing up to the meeting on time.”
  • “Baby Boomers should just get with the times… You can’t do everything on paper, and disregard new technology.”
  • “Gen X, what do they care about again? They are so negative and critical.”

These are extreme misconceptions, yet so relevant in today’s business world. I personally come from the Gen X crowd with the mantra of “Work Hard – Play Hard!” We tend to wear our emotions on our sleeves, and put on a good “mask” in the face of opposition.

A study commissioned by CPP global estimated the annual cost of workplace conflict in the United States to be $359 billion in terms of lost productivity and time spent dealing with conflict. Add to this the psychological, physical, and emotional tolls.

We can’t ignore the big giant elephant in the room named conflict. We need to find healthy strategies for dealing effectively with conflict. Blaming our issues on our generational differences is just an excuse for not managing conflict well, and lack of communication. We can’t assume that a Millennial is always going to have their face buried in an electronic device. We can’t assume that all other generations are better at connecting with others. We have decided that everyone is in a particular category or box due to their age. How did we let this happen?

If we are all deeply honest with ourselves, we would admit that we naturally value what is similar to us.  You may immediately jump to disagreement and think that you are more mature than that, but if you are truly honest, most of the struggles that we have in our work life stems from differences in opinion on how things should be done. Our way is always best, and we are quick to identify with generational stereotypes when we don’t get our way.

Here are some quick tips for managing conflict:

  1. Value Differences in Communication Styles:
    We need to value disruption in thought, be okay with healthy conflict of ideas and differences in communication styles.

  2. Ask Questions:
    We need to challenge ourselves to do things differently. We can do that by asking more questions and seeking to understand each other. Stop and truly listen. Yes, I am showing my age with this… Take the advice of Vanilla Ice… “Stop… Collaborate… and Listen.”

  3. What is Our Common Goal?
    Treat everyone with respect, and focus on our common goals. When you find yourself in conflict with a colleague, ask yourself, “What is it that we both want?”

  4. What Can We Learn From Each other?
    Let’s identify what we can learn from each other, and how we can see things in a whole new way. Just because something has been done the same way for the last five years, it doesn’t mean it’s the best way. We should be constantly looking to improve our methods based on efficiencies, productivity, or what is best for collaboration and connection.

  5. Stop Using Generational Labels:
    Let’s challenge ourselves to put away our preconceived thoughts and misconceptions about generational differences, and first treat each other like we want to be treated. Yes, the golden rule we learned when we were 4 or 5 year’s old still applies today. We need to get to know each other and connect with each other.

Let’s commit to working on healthy conflict management, and put away generational stereotypes. In the end, it’s the connections and relationships that matter most. Ask yourself the following questions as action steps:

  • Am I communicating respectfully?
  • Am I allowing others to be heard, or do I trample their ideas?
  • Do I invite others to contribute ideas that are different than mine?
  • Do I treat my colleagues as unique and valuable?

About the Author

Sabrah Wilkerson

Sabrah Wilkerson is the Learning & Development Manager at Schellman. Sabrah has more than 15 years of experience in the learning and development field including consulting, needs analysis, design, development, facilitation, program and project management, and the evaluation of programs for leaders and employees for soft skills and technical skills. Sabrah’s primary focus is on employee development, and she is passionate about helping others achieve their full potential.

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