Empathy at Workplace: Watch the Generational Gap!

PICTURE CREDIT : Vlad Hilitanu via Unsplash

I just finished listening to an interesting HBR Ideacast podcast How Empathy Helps Bridge Generational Differences : An interesting conversation with executive Mimi Nicklin about how managers can better understand and engage younger workers.

Nifty management skills and a lot of empathy are necessary to balance the priorities and prospects of millennials, baby boomers and the Gen X-ers trapped between them.

As a Millennial, I find myself able to acclimate to the perpetual changes in technology in a way that people older than me can’t. Meanwhile I can also see when people a few years younger than me are able to acclimate to technology in a way that I can’t.

Acknowledging that different age groups are predisposed to have different priorities and perspectives can be worthwhile. Presuming someone’s skills or opinions based on age alone isn’t helpful. (Don’t even get me started on teenagers; their talent to adapt to technology is something I envy! My 10 year old son knows more about Microsoft Teams in past one month than I learnt in past one year of virtual working).

This generational gap brings up some critical questions: how do we bridge the generational gap at workplaces with empathy?

In several networking groups, I keep hearing exasperations about how Gen X employees don’t work well with Millennials or Baby Boomers. Or when Baby Boomers and Millennials are on the same team, certain conflicts often surface. And I often hear a certain hesitant bracing for change as Gen Z college grads are starting to enter the workplace.

I often find myself caught somewhere in between the Gen XYZ and Baby Boomers. This is exactly where ‘empathy’ plays an integral part to bridge this gap.

When you develop empathy, you become skilled at handling your work relationships, listening, and most importantly relating to others. This also helps us avoid judging too quickly and stereotyping. When we begin to approach the multigenerational workforce with an attitude of honesty and empathy, we can give our teams a robust foundation to leverage the strengths of each generation and show them how to seek the best in one another.

Having worked with both younger and older generations, here are my top learnings for ‘walking into someone’s shoes’.

Listen, listen, and listen
Put your listening skills at best — really listening and not just hearing. Face-to-face discussions are ideal, however given most of us are working in a virtual environment, 1:1 conversation also work best. Take time to have informal conversations with your peers beyond just work meetings. Share your experiences and life outside of the corporate world. It’s a great way to build empathy and get to know a person and connect with them — I love this part about my job.

Asking questions often
I often ask my peers how they are feeling — this allows me to better understand and empathize with them. You can ask, “I observed you looked unhappy after our meeting, can you tell me what’s troubling you so I can understand your concerns?” This conveys you care about their feelings and viewpoint.

Stop Stereotyping
I often hear them vs us conversations — Don’t judge or make presumptions about a colleague. For instance, don’t think a colleague is neglectful or indifferent because he/she leaves the office an hour before everyone else. Presuming the worst of people makes you broaden your gap of empathy.

Consider your colleagues’ Feelings
Anxiety often happens in workplaces because of the amount of workload people go through each day. Over the years, I have learnt that it’s not what you say/do to people that matters: it’s how you make them feel is what actually matters the most. For example, instead of asking your colleague ‘’your monthly report is late — send it now’’ you could use empathetic words like, “I recognize you’re juggling many priorities at the moment, but I’d greatly appreciate it if you can send me the monthly report as soon as feasible.” By communicating empathically, you’re conveying respect and compassion, and you’ll likely get the information you need much quicker.

Practice will make you ‘almost’ perfect
Empathy is a time taking process — it does not come overnight. It takes time and a lot of practice. When you emphasize on seeing things from someone else’s point of view and reacting compassionately to their concerns, you’ll learn to master empathy. This will help create an empathetic workplace culture where trust, connection and compassion thrive!

In conclusion , I also believe that diversity and inclusion looks very different to someone in their 60’s as compared to someone in their 20’s. Be sure to motivate listening, empathy and a culture of respect as you let voices across the generations to be heard.

The most efficient bridges are not one-way bridges, they let people to cross on both sides. We must create communication spaces that empower the best ideas to cross over that bridge between generations. The future of our workplaces pivots on our commitment to let go of our biases and look at one another through a new set of lenses.

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Longtime word nerd I Writer | Storyteller | Communication Specialist | Wife | Mom I Motto : 'To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong’

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Mansi Chitranshi

Mansi Chitranshi

Longtime word nerd I Writer | Storyteller | Communication Specialist | Wife | Mom I Motto : 'To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong’

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