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.