Navigating Inter-Generational Conflict: A Conversation with Chris DeSantis

The workplace is growing more diverse, encompassing not only race, gender, and culture but also age. With different generations coexisting and collaborating, the ability to understand and manage inter-generational conflicts is becoming a crucial skill for both leaders and employees. In this conversation, Brian Gorman, host of Qonversations, talks with Chris DeSantis, author of Why I Find You Irritating: Navigating Generation Friction at Work, to explore key insights into this important topic.

"There are a lot of things about the topic that I think are mistaken, such as it's a perceptual difference but not an actual difference. And we tend to be anecdotal in our research, meaning whatever I have available is how I judge. And so, in that sense, there have been these judgments that were going on that I didn't think were actually reflective of these differences, but rather my opinion of you not being me."

Recognizing Real Generational Differences


Differences exist between generations, but they're not just about birth years. We have to understand how unique life experiences shape people's perspectives. DeSantis talked about his experience at an accounting firm years ago when younger consultants challenged the way things were done, showing that these differences go beyond culture.


Brian humorously called himself a "millennial in a boomer body" and DeSantis emphasized that strict generational labels don't always fit. He explained that our life stories and experiences significantly influence who we are, more so than our birth year. Factors like being a first-generation U.S. citizen or an only child contribute to our identity. While acknowledging these individual complexities, there are still shared experiences that shape each generation.

Major events, like the COVID-19 pandemic, can reshape the perspectives of entire generations. This highlights the need to move away from rigid generational stereotypes and appreciate how unique experiences influence people's views of work and the world.


Generational Contributions to the Future of Work


In his book DeSantis talks about the different generations, and Brian Gorman asks, "What can each generation bring to the future of work?" These insights highlight the need for better understanding between age groups at work. A harmonious work environment relies on effective communication and collaboration between generations.


Traditionalists: These individuals emphasize respect and wisdom, reminding us of the value of experience.

Baby Boomers: Baby boomers bring camaraderie and a strong work ethic to the workplace. They introduced family values at work.

Generation X: This generation focuses on self-sufficiency, making them excellent managers who expect competency from their teams. They value boundaries and autonomy.

Millennials: Millennials are all about collaboration. They were raised in a team-oriented environment and prioritize teamwork over individual competition.

Generation Z: The pragmatic and entrepreneurial Gen Z might revolutionize work. They embrace the side hustle and seek more autonomy, challenging traditional structures.


These insights into the contributions of each generation offer a valuable perspective on how they can shape the future of work. As we continue to navigate the evolving workplace landscape, understanding these generational traits and tendencies can help organizations harness the unique strengths of each generation and foster collaboration and innovation.




The Importance of Trust and Dialogue


A crucial aspect of handling intergenerational conflicts is the establishment of trust and the encouragement of open dialogue within the workplace. DeSantis emphasizes the critical role of these elements.

"Before I get to the generational piece, one of the problems when we use trust, we conflate it with mastery. And I think if we separate those things, we'd be better at it. You see, if I say to you: 'I have to keep a close eye on you because you don't have mastery of this yet, you're developing a skill, and you'll learn it quicker under the auspices of somebody who knows it. So I need you around with greater frequency to do that.' But if you if you take out the word mastery and you put in trust, now we have a problem between us because you're attacking my character. You see how we are. When you attack character, you get defensive."

Nevertheless, the challenge lies in trust and measurement. DeSantis observes that a common assumption often prevails: if you're not physically present, you might be wasting time. Building trust requires providing evidence of mastery in the required skills, understanding the pace of delivery, and more. Once both mastery and trust are established, individuals can have the flexibility to explore side hustles or work arrangements that contribute to their personal growth.

"So my advice to dealing with the young is don't talk about trust with them, talk about what they want most, and that is mass skill mastery. Then eventually familiarity leads us naturally into trust."

By prioritizing the development of trust and fostering open dialogue, organizations can adeptly navigate intergenerational conflicts. Such an environment cultivates innovation, teamwork, and a sense of belonging for employees of all generations.


The Role of Leaders in a Diverse Workforce


In a world filled with diverse perceptions, leaders face a complex challenge. Karl Rogers' quote, "The only reality I can possibly know is the world as I perceive it at the moment," highlights this challenge. Each person sees things differently, and leaders need to figure out how to deal with this diversity. Here are some strategies for effective leadership:

  • Be honest about your management style and expectations to encourage open communication.

  • Prioritize ongoing dialogue and seek to understand individual needs.

  • Respect different interaction styles and discuss them openly for mutual understanding.

  • Recognize that success means different things to different people and tailor support accordingly.

Effective leadership needs self-awareness and active engagement. By following these strategies, leaders can create a culture of open dialogue and continuous improvement. This helps them understand each person's unique perspective and turn generational differences into strengths instead of conflicts.


In conclusion, intergenerational conflict at work is a complex issue that requires thoughtful consideration and initiative-taking management. By embracing diversity, fostering trust, and promoting open dialogue, organizations can harness the collective wisdom and creativity of employees from different generations to drive success in the ever-evolving workplace.


Listen to the full conversation.

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