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As a millennial, how can I understand and work with a Gen X-er?

Apr 22, 2015

Answer by Mira Zaslove on Quora.

As an Xer, I’ve worked with and managed many millennials. And as Michael O. Church writes, people are people. Yet, there are times when knowing a little about each generation has helped me understand a colleague.

When generalizing about any group, it’s first necessary to recognize that not everybody in any particular group acts like everyone else. There is often just as much variation within each group, as there is between groups.

However, because generations come of age and enter the workforce around the same time, members of each generation often share similar experiences. And these shared experiences often shape perceptions and work-style.

So first off, who is in each generation?

  • Baby Boomer: born 1943 to 1960 (aged 55-72 today)
  • Gen-Xer: born 1961 to 1981 (aged 34 to 54 today)
  • Millennial: born 1982-2002 (aged 13 to 33 today)

To understand an X-er, the first thing to know, is that Xers grew up in a largely hands-off culture. Every generation for the past century has grown up with less and less self-autonomy. For an interesting article describing change over four generations, check out: How children lost right to roam.

Boomers and X-ers had pretty similar levels of freedom growing up. Kids could safely be out of sight of their parents for long periods of time. Many X-ers were Latchkey kids. In contrast, millennials, due to the technological ease of staying in contact, and changing parenting norms, often weren't out of their parents’ sight until their teenage years.

Millennials also grew up with a lot more encouragement than X-ers. And as a result, millennials generally feel more comfortable voicing their opinion. Even when they just start a job.

For instance, one millennial I worked with, just got through training, and was asked by a Senior VP what they thought of the training program.

The millennial, either not knowing or not caring who was asking the question, quickly answered, "It was boring."

To which the VP replied, "I wrote it." And then, "Who again, are you?"

So, like Anya Deason writes below, don't talk too much-- until you know what you are talking about, and who you are talking to. Xers tend to believe people need to "pay their dues" before voicing opinions.

A few other tips for working together:

  • X-ers tend to be more independent. So, when working with an X-er, don’t be surprised or offended if they choose to work alone.
  • An X-er manager is not going to act like a helicopter parent. X-ers tend to be entrepreneurial thinkers and results-oriented, so they may not tell you how to do every step of the job.
  • X-ers tend to be hands-off, low face-time managers. So when working for an X-er, ask them to clearly define their expectations.
  • Millennials are often cheekily called the “Everybody Gets A Trophy” generation. Few X-ers were regularly praised growing up. So, when working with an X-er manager, don’t expect a lot of praise.
  • When you do receive a compliment from an X-er, you’ve done an great job.
  • Don’t take X-ers skepticism personally. X-ers grew up questioning everything. Expect them to give the pros and the cons to even the best of ideas.

This question originally appeared on Quora: As a Millennial, how do I understand and work with a Gen X-er?

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