“Gentoring” ™: Barriers to Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide – Traditionals and Boomer ‘Hot Buttons’” – Part II
In the aftermath of a recent “Bridging Generational Communication” workshop with a major DC utility, I coined two new concepts – “Gentor” ™ and “Gentoring” ™. (My Webmaster frequently notes how Spell-check is not impressed by my wordsmith proclivities!) And a showcase essay, “Gentoring” ™: Building a New Mentoring Role for Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide or “Don’t Be Afraid to Pet the Dinosaur!,” suggested drawing on the digital generations’ computer and multimedia facility to coax and coach an older generation of employees, helping their seniors become more technologically friendly and fluent. Clearly, expanding computer-Internet-multimedia competency is critical in today’s world. (Email [email protected] if you missed this essay, or check my “Google Blob”:
Now let’s consider some of the possible psychological and interpersonal as well as organizational and socio-cultural (including current economic) dangers and opportunities in designing and implementing a Gentoring program. First an examination of likely “hot button” issues for Traditionals (born before 1945) and Boomers (born 1945 to 1964) reluctant to cross the dinosaur-digital divide yet potentially being techno-coached by GenXers and Millennials (born after 1965). Here are “Five of Ten Dino-Digital Defenses and Hot Buttons”:
1. Initial Denial, Dismissive or Disruptive Reaction. While Gentoring is not formal supervision, I’ve heard enough troubling firsthand accounts of tumultuous early stages of younger supervisor–older supervisee interactions to list this as an early red alert. The more senior employee’s defensive-aggressive reaction – overt or covert – is basically this: “What makes you think that (with your lack of experience, maturity, delusion of competence, etc.) you can teach me anything (of real relevance, meaning, consequence, etc.) or have any authority over me?” This concern about perceived authority and control may surface even if the Gentoring program is voluntary.
2. Authority-Status Shift. The Traditionals and even many of the more senior Boomers grew up with or were socialized by a “Chain of Command” system involving a top-down authority structure and information flow typically based on work-role experience, seniority and status. These folks tend to believe that it takes considerable time and front line experience and accomplishment (as well as knowing the system or political culture) to rise in the ranks, earn your stripes and achieve “managerial” status. All this translates into an expectation that the “Four ‘R’s of Organizational Routine and Responsibility” – Rules, Roles, Rewards and Relationships – be clearly defined, predictable and “by the book” (if not a tad “black or white”). A Gentoring process inverts and, for some, subverts the traditional or conventional authority-role-status relations.
3. Family Dynamics. For both parties across the generational-digital divide, workplace relationships can take on parent-child or older-younger sibling overtones, especially when we consider that for most employees more waking time is spent at work than at home. This kind of role-relationship confusion, for example, a Traditional or Boomer responding to a younger person less as a colleague and more as a child or sibling, in the therapeutic realm is referred to as “transference.” I call the conscious overgeneralization “overt transference” and the unconscious (including visceral, nonverbal) overgeneralization “covert transference.” Conversely, a Gen Xer or Millennial may respond to an older colleague/supervisor as a parental figure or older sibling. For example, if a Gen Y makes a mistake she may anticipate (without sufficient objective evidence) an impatient, angry reaction from her male Boomer colleague akin to the abrupt and critical temperament of her father.
Also important to note, a transference reaction is more likely to be triggered or exaggerated when a person is under intensely acute or chronic levels of stress. Not only can the role-power inversion be unsettling but Traditionals and Boomers are being asked to jump into the deep end of the pool – increase their computer competency – an inherently stressful knowledge area for many older generation folks. Hmm…for future cogitation: might we consider the younger generation as both swim coach and life guard?
4. Jealousy, Displacement and Acting Out. Whether the senior party is an employee or a supervisor/manager, he or she may or may not be jealous of the status and skill level, role and power of his or her younger coach or Gentor. However, if jealous feelings surface there may be several sources fueling this smoldering or charged emotion. For the more senior member, this relationship may evoke feelings/memories of promotions or advancement opportunities missed or denied (whether fairly or not). Gentoring may also stir up jealousy or resentment for past or present opportunities provided to former or current colleagues.
What this means is that a defensive, unaware or in denial senior learner may well:
a) directly displace his unresolved jealousy or hostile feelings onto the Gentor and/or
b) passive-aggressively act out or resist – from coming late to sessions to being stubbornly silent with, dismissive or negatively skeptical of – the Gentor and Gentoring program.
5. “Inadequacy and the Intimate FOE”. Not surprisingly, overt or passive-aggressive acting out of angst, hostility and rage are frequently smoke signals for core, smoldering emotions and threats:
a) feelings of shame or humiliation, alas, nurtured in childhood, often with a bullying or ridiculing parent, teacher or peer, or even in abusive relations as an adult and
b) having to confront your “Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure,” that is, our persona, mask or public cover will be blown and our shadow side – our lurking, self-perceived inadequacy or incompetency, both in and beyond the realm of technology – will be revealed for all to see.
Stay tuned for Dino-Digital Defenses 6-10. Until then…Practice Safe Stress!
Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, “The Stress Doc” ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker as well as “Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst” known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN programs for both government agencies and major corporations. In addition, the “Doc” is a team building and organizational development consultant. He is providing “Stress and Communication, as well as Managing Change, Leadership and Team Building” programs for the 1st Cavalry Division and 13th Expeditionary Support Command, Ft. Hood, Texas and for Army Community Services and Family Advocacy Programs at Ft. Meade, MD and Ft. Belvoir, VA as well as Andrews Air Force Base/Behavioral Medicine Services. Mark has also had a rotation as Military & Family Life Consultant (MFLC) at Ft. Campbell, KY. A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, The Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his award-winning, USA Today Online “HotSite” — www.stressdoc.com — called a “workplace resource” by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc’s “Practice Safe Stress” programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email [email protected] or call 301-875-2567.
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