How Do You Get Millennials to Respect Baby Boomers?

I admit I was one of them. 

At my first job at Lithium Technologies (they provide software solutions not batteries in case you were wondering), I had the privilege of working as a software engineer at a ‘fast charging startup’ in San Francisco. Young, motivated and green, I had the ultimate goal of becoming the Chief Technology Officer at the billion-dollar revenue company in two years. Within the first few months, I set that goal. Now If you worked in corporate you probably recognize how unrealistic this goal is. It’s like trying to be a gold Olympic medalist before puberty unless you live in China. Oddly enough, this unrealistic expectation came down to my lack of respect. 

Now, defining respect, it wasn’t that I ran around the officer accusing everyone older than me that they did not know what they were doing. Or that I ignored people when they when addressed me with the infamous “I have headphones on therefore you don’t exist” response. In fact, I respect people who were senior as me a bit more than my same hierarchy level coworkers. Why? Because the senior employee had power over where I was in the company. 

The respect I lacked was an intellectual type. I simply did not know, what I didn’t know. Due to my ignorance, I thought I didn’t need years of experience to rise in the company. The solution in my mind was working hard. Sure there were acronyms that I didn’t know just like any company. Nothing that a few flashcards couldn’t solve. With a bit of studying, I thought I could rising through the company would be a breeze. 


A Paradigm Shift

However, that quickly changed as I different situations cropped up where I realized that studying terms wouldn’t accelerate career growth. For instance, the team that I was in was doing a major migration and my boss was working with the team lead on how to best use some servers from Amazon to ramp up customers. 

After the meeting, I pulled my boss aside and asked him a few questions about how to use AWS (Amazon Warehouse Servers) to accommodate irregular customers. Excited, he walked up to a whiteboard and started drawing multiple circles and how they related to one another. Each circle representing a different computer server and the line represented server communication. About 60% of the conversations had terms that I had no idea of their meaning so there was a lot of explaining slowing down the conversation immensely.  30 minutes later we wrapped up the conversation and returned to our desks. 

Then it hit me like a two-four across the back of my head. 

Even if I learned the information we discussed, I still had zero real-life experience. Hence, how could I ever lead over someone who had the experience? Experience and knowledge go hand to hand. Otherwise, I would just be another academic who never tried a real-world application. Even with knowledge, I was in no way suited for a leadership position. My 2 year CEO dream vanished.


Looking Back

In retrospect, I am immensely grateful for my boss to walk me through that lengthy explanation. Not only did it help conceptually of what we were trying to do, but it also helped me broaden my perspective. 

At that point, I would say I lost career direction. I didn’t know what I really needed to move up the ranks in the company because it simply wasn’t about accumulating knowledge. Career progression was also a journey of experience. Something that wasn’t as easily acceleratable.

Unfortunately, many companies fail to explain why it takes so long to get promoted. The biggest issue comes down to having the necessary experience to move to the next level. While working with the police force, I learned a promotion could take anywhere from 5 to 10 years. While that seemed lengthy at first, after hearing out a couple of Captains explain why it all began to click. There were particular situations that officers had to be involved in before they were ready for promotion. In addition, there were some positions that were extremely difficult to promote when there was only one person. The person in the place of power had to either get fired, transfer or die.


Focusing on Communication Between Generations

If readers have spent any time watching Dr.Phil, they know that disrespect can exist in many forms. Sometimes, its parent-child abuse, others financial, and occasionally sexual. In the workplace, the same concepts apply, feeling respected can manifest itself in many forms.

For anyone who feels disrespected it’s important to write out your expectations. For instance, in my company, I expect employees to show up on time to meetings and have integrity in their promises. If they don’t, I feel disrespected. In Spain, it’s respectful to greet someone who you know, by kissing them on each cheek regardless of their sex. If you tried that in the states you could easily find yourself with a sexual harassment lawsuit. Hence, different people have various expectations in multiple environments. If you desire respect, it’s important to vocalize your expectations because they differ widely across the world.


Setting Down Generation Expectations

It’s always easier having someone else realize that they are in the wrong, then you having to tell them they are. In order to make sure you are being respected- vocalize your respect expectations to someone and make sure that they hear you out by having them recite them back to you. At that point, the respect trap is set. This technique is often used in psychotherapy as Barbara Markway Ph.D. points out in Psychology Today

Once the expectations are heard, if you continue to see the disrespectful behavior, have the offender pause and ask them “what they are doing?” Once they say what they are doing, then prompting them about your respect expectations, and querying if they are meeting those? At that point, they will need to answer a contradiction, if they crossed the boundary then you caught them. Or if say they are not cross the boundary, but they know of your expectation then they are in a contradiction. At this point, recite your expectations and move on. 

Remember it’s important to ask them about what they are doing than telling them that you are being disrespected. Better to have them realize they are in the wrong than you having to tell them that they are.


Generation Respect Moving Forward

Granted, respect is not about Baby Boomers learning Millennial lingo, #coolaf in order to have respect. Could that help? Sure, but if done wrong, it can come off as the cringy parent trying to speak their child’s school language. “Why don’t you clean your room bruh?” If you are interested in being like ‘them’ go about the experience organically.

For respect, it is more about vocalizing your expectations and holding each party accountable for those boundaries. For me, my journey of understanding respect involved in the knowledge realm. Others, it might be the language they use. Either way, simplifying the approach can help a lot of inter-generational and cross-cultural workplace problems be solved.


Jeff Butler

Jeff Butler Internationally respected speaker and consultant, Jeff Butler helps bridge generational gaps between Millennials and companies looking for their talent and patronage. Butler has quickly built his reputation as a memorable presenter with tangible solutions for attracting, retaining, and engaging Millennials as employees and customers. Within just the past three years, he has spoken at two TEDx events and multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn.


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