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Don’t be Insecure! How to Confidently Manage People Older than You

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It’s not surprising if managing people of any age or generation significantly older than you is uncomfortable on both sides.
 

Nevertheless, we need to get used to the phenomenon as it is bound to grow with three to five generations in the workplace. Simultaneously we are experiencing older workers slow to leave and younger ones eager to move up faster than was customary in past decades, so typical managerial relationships are being disrupted.

I was asked as a multi-generational workplace expert to discuss the challenges younger managers face in that situation, the potential conflicts and how to successfully interact when junior in age but senior in authority. Outlined below are my thoughts and tips for effectively navigating this potential whitewater.

Some common challenges:
 

  • Young managers may feel insecure when asked to manage people more experienced in work and life.
  • Psychologically the parent/child dynamic may kick in consciously or unconsciously.
  • The older and younger may have different communication and work styles (although this can be true even within the same generation).
  • Each party may have erroneous assumptions and expectations of the other.
  • There may be resistance and/or resentment from the older worker.
  • In any new relationship, the people involved need to earn trust, confidence and respect.

Among things to watch for that can cause conflict are:
 

  • Time honored processes and solutions that older workers are used to vs. new untested ideas that the younger manager may propose.
  • A new or less experienced boss’ managerial style.
  • Desire to use different types of media to communicate than each party prefers or is comfortable with.
  • Different perceptions of what constitutes teamwork.

Here are 7 tips on how the younger person can take charge and interact successfully:
 

  1. Show respect from the get-go. Avoid arrogance or throwing your weight around, which conveys insecurity more than authority.
  2. Show interest in getting to know the older worker as a person, which will start to build a more comfortable relationship.
  3. Recognize their past and ongoing achievements.
  4. Ask for their input to ideas and decisions while showing confidence that you are up to the task. Show interest in learning from them for mutual benefit.
  5. Don’t micro-manage. Be clear on goals and expectations, then give them space.
  6. Ask for and learn to give and receive effective feedback.
  7. Don’t reject automatically the older person’s ideas, and when you do turn them down, explain why.

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What has your experience been? What has been most challenging? Let me know what you have found to work best in situations when there are age-reversed reporting relationships.

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