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

Time's 2010 Person of the Year
Millennials have had a great impact on all of us in 2010, as many HR professionals know all too well.

“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.

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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 Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. 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

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's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.