Ageism (also spelled "agism") is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age.
I can appreciate the need to understand audiences, to find commonalities among consumers and to understand how generations typically adapt or are adept to technology and the workplace. But I do think that there are times where there is too much chatter, assumption and stereotyping against Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers.
Rarely have I seen psychographics, infographics or descriptions that say "likely to," "can" or "may be predispositioned to" when it comes to behaviours. Instead, they are often written as facts and absolutes.
I see this as a problem, particularly when multiple generations are in the same workplace. Too many
assumptions are being made about what individuals are supposed to be like, rather than focusing on who they are.
As soon as you start talking or even thinking in terms of "those" people, then you are stereotyping.
Here is a snapshot of common misconceptions that I believe exist about the generations*:
- Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are inflexible, don't understand or use social or digital media, are independent, goal-oriented, competitive and workaholics
- Generation Xers (born 1965-1980) carry a high value of life balance, are technically competent, want feedback and reward often, and are independent
- Millennials (1981-2000) challenge authority, are task-oriented, crave attention, can't carry a conversation, believe that jobs are something they do between weekends, and are technically saavy on all fronts
Here's my problem. As soon as you start believing the stereoptypes and thinking of individuals as groups rather than as individuals, there is ageism. Yes, there are challenges with the generations dealing with each other and not understanding each other at times, but has this not been a problem over the decades? The "they don't get me and I don't get them" syndrome.
What can you do about it?
- Understand that generations are different and embrace the differences and get to know the person not the group they are in
- Stop generalizing about people. It's not a way to build relationships
- Don't treat everyone the same, treat each one as a unique individual
- Consider what you might learn about your approaches, differences and skills
And how can you do this?
- Listen. Don't hear. Truly listening is understanding. When you understand, you learn
- Collaborate. Bring multi-generations, experiences, and backgrounds into brainstorming meetings. Different perspective could bring a freshness to the same old same old
- Stop perceiving people and start getting to know people. Ask why or how. Why do you.... How do you.... (Ensuring the tone is interest not criticism.)
- Ask for help. Learn. You are the teacher and the student
- Be aware of your actions and reactions so you can start to evolve. Tone of voice, body language, and what you say.
The greatest compliment that I believe any of these age groups can get from the other is "You don't act like a ... (Boomer, Xer, Millennial)!"
Then, I know we have moved away from generational stereotypes into a relationship build on trust, mutual respect and understanding. Isn't that what we all want?
*Google personality traits and values of these groups and see the lists of descriptors.
Judy Mann is a consultant and advisor with Judy Mann Communications. She offers internal and external Communications and PR services as well as specialized group and individual sessions and workshops on increasing interpersonal communications effectiveness, relationship building, public speaking and presentation style and delivery.
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