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I have been talking to more and more clients lately who are up in arms about these entitled millennials that are so hard to work with. Yeah, the complainers are baby boomers like me, or maybe Gen Xers. (How did you know?) I try to help them think through what their options are (like any good consultant) but at a certain point, I have to talk to them a bit more forcefully. At a certain point, they need to confront their expectations, because their frustration is about how millennials aren’t meeting their own expectations.

Sometimes, I can do this gently, but I have more than once had to sit back in my chair and ask my client, “So if these millennials are so awful to work with, who do you plan to work with instead?”

That usually helps us focus the conversation on what we can do to change the conversation rather than what we want other people to do. We have control only over what we personally do. It’s ultimately very passive to complain about other people or the situation and to merely sit around waiting for circumstances to change so that we can then do our work.

One of the big expectations is that the experienced people should mentor the younger folks. I find this to be very limiting. I try to engage in mutual mentoring, where I can impart what I know but I also ask questions about what the other person knows, because—guess what—I don’t have a corner on knowledge.

I fancy myself a pretty good marketer and I know that I have a lot to teach. But I couldn’t survive without working with millennial marketers who are teaching me. I need to understand new technologies and how people are using them. And I can only get so far by using them myself. The truth is that younger people are blazing many of these trails and I need to be learning from them.

And that leads me to my best piece of advice for dealing with millennials. Stop treating them as a group. You wouldn’t see executives sitting around complaining about how hard it is to work with women or black people or short people or “night” people because even though people in those groups might have some things in common, they really just want to be treated as individuals. All of this discussion about “millennials” overlooks the fact that they are as different from each other as members of any other group.

My best tip for dealing with people of any age is to listen. Find out what they know. Find out what they want to know. Find out what they can do. Find out what they need help doing. Understand their dreams. See how you can help.

If you do that, you will be great at working with millennials and anyone else of any age.

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Mike Moran

About Mike Moran

Mike Moran has a unique blend of marketing and technology skills that he applies to raise return on investment for large marketing programs. Mike is a former IBM Distinguished Engineer and a senior strategist at Converseon, Revealed Context, and SoloSegment. Mike is the author of three books on digital marketing and is an instructor at Rutgers Business School. He is a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO, a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research, and a Certified Speaking Professional.

4 replies to this post
  1. I think you make some good points, but it’s not just Millennials. Every generation brings both positive and negative thinking/habits. I think what you’re saying in short is that a diverse culture that embraces people from across the age-spectrum (vs stereotyping) can provide a lot of potential and bi-directional learning opportunities. I worked for an advocacy organization that embraced and celebrated a multi-generational workforce. It was rewarding and productive to have a balance of wisdom, patience and experience and fearless tech risk-taking — all working together towards a common goal.

  2. Thanks, Mich. I agree with you, but I think I am just reacting to so much unwarranted criticism of Millennials, that I wanted to call it out specifically. Thanks for your comment.

  3. There are so many articles out there criticising millennials, and it frustrates me sometimes. Great article, Mike! Really appreciate it.

    • Thanks, Ida. I remember getting criticized for being different when I was in my 20s, and I think we all need to make room for changing approaches and opinions rather than being nostalgic that the way we did things was always right. If we think we were smarter than those than came before us, maybe we can extend that open-mindedness to the next generation coming up.

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