How To Relate To Employees Young Enough To Be Your KidsBy Lilit Marcus on June 25, 2012 in How To...
Everyone comes to a moment in his or her life when they realize they are no longer ‘cool.’ Even in my mid-20s, I managed teenage interns who didn’t get any of my pop culture references and made me feel like a dinosaur. So what happens when we’re managing people who seem to come from an entirely different planet?
Here are a couple of ways to relate to your junior employee without being someone’s embarrassing drunk uncle:
- When in doubt, avoid pop culture metaphors. Metaphors are a great way to get ideas and complex strategies to seem simple. But if you spend more time explaining who Bruce Springsteen is than talking about your idea, you’ve failed as a communicator. There are still plenty of other ways to relate: sports similes (without naming specific athletes) work nicely, or you can just reference other company procedures and show how yours will be similar or different.
- Avoid slipping into “Mom Mode” or “Dad Mode.” At my first assistant job, my boss was old enough to be my grandfather. As a result, he treated me like one of his grandkids – and that wasn’t always a good thing. He lectured me about relationships, asked personal questions, and gave me stern lectures about drinking. Personal lives are personal, and you should refrain from commenting—even if you know you’re right—unless someone’s personal life is hindering their ability to work.
- Don’t feel like you need to have stuff in common in order to work together.
You and your employee already have something in common: your job. If you happen to like the same movies and want to talk about them in the office, that’s great, but it’s by no means a requirement for getting along. Try to find other similarities – family backgrounds, hometowns, thinking that guy in accounting has really terrible hair. As long as you’re able to work together efficiently, you don’t have to bond about what happened on Gossip Girl last week.
- Be open-minded. You know that feeling you get when someone insults your favorite movie? That’s kind of how a junior employee feels when you make fun of something they love, whether it’s Twilight or Wiz Khalifa. If you’re knowledgeable about a subject and want to have an actual debate about its merits, go ahead. But if you’re making assumptions about a movie you haven’t seen or music you haven’t listened to, you’re just going to look judgmental. Your employee can like Twilight all they want, unless they insist on putting up posters in the office where clients can see them. Then you should put your foot down.
- Don’t take it personally. It might wound your pride a little bit to realize that the kinds of art you love are not as beloved by the younger generation, but it’s normal for culture to change. It’s not about you.