HR Insights, HR Management

Just Shut Up and Listen to What Younger Workers Have to Say

Time's 2010 Person of the Year

“Daddy, sometimes I want you to just listen and not try and solve everything.”

That statement was from my daughter in her junior year of college. Now she is a college graduate with not one, but two, undergrad degrees. That is a quote that I have never forgotten. I think of it every time I am talking to someone or in a meeting.

I thought of that statement the day after the snowstorm paralyzed the New York City metro area last month. After the shoveling, the two of us settled down in our TV room and had a glass of wine together. We talked into the night, just me and my “little girl.” I listened.

We’ve all been there

Our conversation that night covered a range of topics, but this is not unusual because we always have these long father/daughter conversation — the same type of conversations that I used to have with my son, who is Gen X.

I thought of my own parents raising three boys and the discussions we had with them that were spirited at times. “They just did not understand us” was what my brothers and I would always say. Our mode of dress, our politics, our hair style, even our taste in music, well, we did not always agree. As Yogi Berra would characterize it, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Boomers, wake up — we have all been there.

This generational divide has spawned numerous articles relating to Millennials and other generations in the workplace. Are they really that different? John Hollon’s article here at TLNT spoke eloquently of this generation as not being visitors from Mars.

Throughout our conversation, I listened and offered value only when asked. I gave insight referencing situations and the importance of cataloging life. That way, I noted, you can always go back and review. My goal is to guide my daughter into being not only an adjusted adult, but also a competent manager of people.

Being The Answer Man doesn’t help workers learn

As managers, we often get caught up in being “The Answer Man.”  As soon as we are presented with a situation from our direct reports, we begin formulating our answers even before the last word is out of their mouth. We are arming our weapons before we even see the target.

We pride ourselves on being the person with the answers. But are we helping to grow people by doing this? Are we really preparing them to lead? I think not.

A few of the most powerful words in the human vocabulary are What, Why, When, Where, and How. Used in sequential order, this is a great model for following up after listening. Neither word conveys you thoughts or opinion, but they do tend to cause people to think through a situation more thoroughly.

This Millennial generation has been examined, poked, and probed every way possible. But being a Boomer, we were viewed a whole lot worse. From parents to institutions, we were seen basically the same way that we are now pontificating about Generations X and Y.

These new generations has given us tools that have changed the course of humanity.

Mark Zuckerberg was recently named Time’s Person of the Year for 2010. Blogs, texts, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr are all results of other generations following through on their dreams. Based on this track record, maybe we should listen more to them.

Boomers have a lot to learn from Millennials

The reality is that Boomers have much to learn from their younger workers. Do not make broad assumptions. If there is something you do not understand, ask them directly. Use their generational views as part of the decision making process.

This is a generation that has been defined as willing to collaborate and a focus on teamwork. Last time I checked, these are qualities to be treasured in today’s workforce..

What’s the matter with young people today? “Frankly, nothing.” Next time you are confronted with that questions, just shut up and listen. As my father would tell me from time to time, “shut up and listen and you may learn something.”

Ron Thomas is CEO of Great Place to Work-GCC countries, based in Dubai. He formerly was Chief HR Officer of the RGTS Group in Saudi Arabia. Ron is also a senior faculty member of the Human Capital Institute. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as a Master Human Capital Strategist (MHCS) and Strategic Workforce Planner (SWP). Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living. Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia. Contact him at ronaldtthomas@gmail.com or on Twitter.
  • http://glowan.com/wordpress/ Kevin W. Grossman

    Amen. I’m with you there. There’s always wisdom to impart on each other, even if we’re always right. ;)

  • Heidi

    Shut up and listen applies to all and to everyone it’s in the right order.

  • http://twitter.com/BetterManagers Better Managers

    Great insight for a #Friday!

  • http://twitter.com/BetterManagers Better Managers

    Great insight for a #Friday!

  • S_h_warren

    Collaboration and Teamwork. So many are afraid of these two words…two words that make a huge difference between successes and failures….
    I always enjoy reading your blogs. Thanks

  • B. Wallace

    Enjoyed that Ron!! There is something to be learned from each being on the planet including the animal kingdom and likewise, organizations need to pay more attention to their older workers as well. There is a treasure of wisdom in those ones who can offer mentoring to those coming in if they have the willingness while continuing to stay abreast of technology and being receptive to innovative ideas.

  • http://misslujo.tumblr.com/ Jocelyn Aucoin

    Thank you, Ron. Although I don’t really like to see any of these lines drawn – Millenials vs Boomers – because I just think stereotyping furthers these gaps that are so destructive to culture, I do have to say a big THANKS for painting Millenials in the positive light they so deserve. I’m so sick of reading all the bad press. This generation is talented and amazing. We all have our struggles, do we not? Let’s stay focused on positives, work together, and make the workplace the best place it can be. You don’t hear Millenials calling out Boombers. Way to bring to light the positive. Stay bright! 

  • http://www.intentionalcareer.com/ Henrieta Riesco

    Yes, it’s good to look at the differences from the angle of “What can I learn here?” “How can this help us all?” I’m also amazed by the approaches my 17 year old and 11 year old are coming up with to solve their issues. I was taught to go and figure it out. They are super resourceful and flexible.

  • http://karlaporter.com/ Karla Porter

    I work with a lot of college students and am of the opinion there is much less difference than similarity. People exaggerate a lot about generational differences and every generation says the same thing about youth and state of the union. “What’s this world coming to?” ‘ What’s wrong with kids theses days?” etc.

  • Christina

    Oh. Thank You! I love listening to my adult kids (23 & 20) and their friends. They are the future – their opinions matter to the way we do business in this ever-changing landscape of online and offline marketing!

  • Scott Span

    Well said per your original comment, Dan. As a GenY, and a leadership and OD practitioner, I often work with client’s around diversity, including generational diversity. The biggest issues that seem to arise when focusing on differences, not similarities and basic human needs, and in regard to communication practices. Raising awareness that not everyone views the world via the same lens and thus may have different ideas regarding workplace matters – engagement, retention, performance etc. is important to investigate to achieve high performance.

  • http://twitter.com/Rangarajan_S Rangarajan Suresh

    Listening is an art — I always tell my kids that they have 2 ears and 1 mouth and so they should listen more and talk less.