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Starting a “Gentoring” ™Program: Gen X-Y Barriers to Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide

Starting a “Gentoring” ™Program: Barriers to Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide – Gen Xers and Millennial “Hot Buttons”

In the first two segments of my Gentoring essay, a) the concepts of Gentor ™ and Gentoring ™ were introduced (“Gentoring” ™: Building a New Mentoring Role for Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide or “Don’t Be Afraid to Pet the Dinosaur!”), and b) anticipated barriers or “hot buttons” (“Gentoring” ™: Barriers to Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide – Traditionals and Boomer “Hot Buttons”) were identified, that is, when a generationally older employee, more techno-lizard than wizard, accepts coaching-gentoring from a younger and more computer-multimedia savvy Gen X or Y colleague.

Gentoring: Why the Time is Ripe

Two contemporary factors heighten the importance of initiating a “Gentoring” program: 1) expanding computer-Internet-multimedia competency is critical in today’s 24/7, rapidly changing technology-driven world, and 2) in a time of organizational budget tightening and of a pervasive “do more with less” operational climate, drawing on and maximizing existing internal company and team resources is “bottom line” and mission critical. And a Gentoring program may well provide some “lagniappe” (a N’Awlins phrase for a little something extra, i.e., a “baker’s dozen”): creating collaborative partnerships to help bridge the generational-digital divide.

So let’s move to the junior members and examine the perceived, potential or actual barriers, the psychological and interpersonal as well as organizational and socio-cultural (including current economic) dangers and opportunities that may arise in a Gentoring Start-up. And in this new role and relationship, we’ll especially want to identify likely “hot buttons” of Gen Xers and, especially, Gen Ys (that is, those born after 1964 and 1980 respectively) when trying to coax and coach an older generation of employees across the dino-digital divide. Here are “Five Gen X and Gen Y Dino-Digital Defenses and Hot Buttons”:

1. Family Dynamics. Just as a Traditional or Boomer may relate to a significantly younger colleague, consciously or not, as a son or daughter, or a younger sibling, a member of the digital generation may displace some of their unresolved emotional baggage (hopefully not tonnage) onto their older “Gentee.”

An example was provided in my essay on “Traditionals and Boomer ‘Hot Buttons’”: 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, this displacement or transference reaction is more likely to be triggered or exaggerated when a person is under intensely acute or chronic levels of stress.

2. Authority-Role-Status Shift. When a person relatively young in age subsumes an authority position he or she will oftentimes experience discomfort; this individual may even feel like an impostor. Or, this person may feel more confident in technical knowledge than in interpersonal skills. When the role involves coaching or “Gentoring” a senior colleague who may well be feeling: a) anxious about computer/communication technology, b) belittled by the age differential and perceived authority-status reversal and/or c) defensive and dismissive of anything meaningful to be gained from a learning process with an inexperienced or “immature” younger colleague. (Remember, that senior colleague may fear for his job security and see the Gentor as a definite threat in this “Brave New Techno-World.”)

”Whew! That Gen Xer or Y has entered the lion’s den. And I can quickly imagine two problematic extremes. The young trainer: a) is intimidated by the role and roar, as well as the defensive or aggressive body language, of the older lion and does not really engage, coax and coach and/or b) covers up feelings of insecurity with an analytical or hard-line, “show them who is boss” and “crack the whip” approach. This process likely yields a head and ego butting outcome, once again confirming the senior’s resistance to computer learning. Of course, another possibility is the idealistic yet naïve trainer who believes her energy and enthusiasm will win over the older colleague, who is reachable despite his or her lion or lizard skin. (Sometimes this happens; more often I’ve observed a disillusioned rescuer.)

3. Thin-Skinned and a Shortened Span. Another challenge for these youthful “Gentors” is the perception that this digital generation, especially the Millennials, are overly sensitive to criticism or overly dependent on the need for approval; they forever want to know “how am I doing?” Some attribute these “immature” qualities to a “friendship” and “collaborative”-based partnership with their parents and other significant adults, including teachers. (Then again, some would call this parent-authority dynamic as “coddling” and “hovering,” demonstrating insufficient boundary setting at the relationship core.)

Is Virtuality Reality?

Of course, related to the need for continuous feedback, if not reassurance, is the fact this digital generation has grown up with instantaneous feedback at the push of a button. And while this provides many advantages regarding multiple and simultaneous data processing it also seems to cultivate some problems such as impatience, low frustration tolerance, and at times a limited ability to concentrate and sustain focus. This multimedia generation has been accused of scanning more than understanding. And naturally a Gentoring relationship will put a thin skin and a short attention span to the test.

Is Reality Virtuality?

However, before moving on, it’s worth noting that the younger generation’s (or at least a large segment’s) ability to interminably play video games seems to put any blanket assumptions about scanning and spanning into question. Deserving further consideration is whether span of attention, information processing and understanding is impacted when the digital-ager is placed in a passive or traditional learning situation compared to one that is interactive and provides some “game control” of the engagement process.

4. Rights and Responsibilities, Structure and Freedom. An oft heard cry is that today’s youth feel entitled to their “rights” without earning or shouldering “responsibilities.” And certainly this younger generation cannot step back into the “Sixties” with all of its trailblazing trials and triumphs along with its escapist excesses and errors. But perhaps the issue is not so black and white. Gen Xers and Ys often do want structure regarding what they are supposed to do and feedback of their progress, with timely rewards, or at least the possibility of “working smarter not harder.” Maybe they are not so independent. Then again, in an age that is so networked and multi-connected, perhaps the goal needs to be more interdependence than being the “Lone Ranger or Rangerette.” Yet within the provided structure, this younger generation often wants the freedom to figure out how they will reach the expected outcome. They want to put their own signature on the project or product.

Of course, this need for feedback and individual expression may generate some pushback from an organization run by workplace norms or from colleagues who’ve adapted to “No news is good news” and who espouse the motivational mantra, There’s no “I” in team.

When “I”s Must “C”: The Necessity for Individual and Interactive Vision

As previously cited, I don’t know if it’s my own ego needs or an appreciation of the complexity of group process-motivation that keeps me from unconditionally embracing the above oft-quoted saying. I’ve amended the motivational mantra, thusly: There May Be No “I” in Team”…but there Are Two “I”s in Winning! And while there are several interpretive possibilities, let’s go with a “letteral” one – the winning “I”s stand for “Interactivity” and “Individuality.” And these “I”s definitely “C”: Highly motivated and morale-driven teams are a dynamic if not paradoxical blend of “Individual Creativityand “Interactive Community.” So the visionary challenge for today’s workplace, not just for launching a Gentoring program, is getting all generations to buy-in to the need for some idiosyncratic expression and design within an overriding mission-based, interdependent and team-oriented community. And if the digitals and dinos don’t quite speak the same language, how will “we all just get along?”

Can You Have Idiosyncrasy and Inclusion?

Also interesting is that while this younger contingent wants room for individual expression and idiosyncrasy, they also eschew more than previous generations a “win-lose” sense of competition. Their modus operandi seems to value trying and embracing recognition if not rewards for all. And while Millennials especially have been ridiculed for all this “we are the world” fuzziness, their sense of inclusion has also fostered greater multicultural acceptance and understanding than previous generations.

5. Communication across the Generational Divide. On one side of the digital divide is a generation that expects to be heard and wants instant feedback; on the other are folks socialized on the benefits of no news, top down communication and the Chain of Command. And we also have the potential for errors of omission and commission. Regarding the former, what happens when today’s younger generation who often “interpret silence as criticism” interact with more senior, privacy conscious, “no news is good news” colleagues…You think there’s potential for “message sent not being the message received?” Duh!!!

Corrupting the Language vs. Cracking the Code

As for the commission conundrum, are you now required to Tweet, blog, or use a mobile device with apps to do your job? Senior eyes increasingly glaze over as the younger workforce texts requests from the home office using acronyms and abbreviations that would have given even a late 20th century high school English teacher Anaphylactic shock? Conversely, how frustrating is it to be the fresh-out-of-college worker trying to crack the “inside code” of the experienced team members? And all too often being hurtled or beamed across the divide are spear-or laser-like antagonisms, such as, “This is how we’ve always done it, “Wake up and smell the politics,” “Stop being so resistant,” or “They just don’t get it”?

Closing Summary

This essay has outlined “Five Gen X and Gen Y Dino-Digital Defenses and Hot Buttons”:

1. Family Dynamics

2. Authority-Role-Status Shift

3. Thin-Skinned and a Shortened Span

4. Rights and Responsibilities, Structure and Freedom

5. Communication across the Generational Divide

Gentoring Dangers and Opportunities

Certainly these are real challenges to a Gentoring, trial and error start-up. But we don’t wish to end on a despairing note; there’s a potential pass in the generational-digital impasse. As this series has documented, when the younger generation (“Internet Native” to quote NY Times blogger, Nick Bilton) helps a computer or social media averse member of an earlier generation (“Internet Immigrant”) improve their techno-literacy and comfort-level, the former is playing the role of “Gentor.” (Naturally, it’s a play on “mentor.”). And this digital generation likes being consultants. Hopefully, this collaborative relationship will also increase Gen Xers’ and Millennials’ sense of responsibility and commitment to their colleagues and to the company. And while senior workers can give their younger co-workers some of the recognition and affirmation that provides motivational meaning, productive cross-fertilization requires mutual learning and sharing; especially by loosening role-status barriers while building two-way communicational bridges.

Final Preview

So the final segment will illustrate tools and techniques for the younger generation guiding their anxious seniors across the digital divide. But you will also discover emotional and interpersonal skills for helping the more senior generation “Mentor” their younger colleagues in areas such as institutional wisdom, career progress and office politics, as well as workplace values/norms. With a mutual coaching process and some Stress Doc orchestration, Traditionals and Boomers will find it easier to harmonize generationally, to accept digital/social-media skill-building lessons from their juniors and may even better appreciate some of the idiosyncratic Gen X and Gen Y values and ways.

So stay tuned for, “Starting a Mentoring-Gentoring ™ System: Transforming the Generational-Digital Divide into a Mutual Knowledge and Skill-Building Partnership (across the Age-Experience Spectrum).” 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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