Generations, Part 2: Steps to Success

Getting Unstuck: Five Steps for Leading through

the Twelve Generational Sticking Points

As we consider what to do about the places where the generations tend to get stuck, it’s worth pointing out just where those conflicts are most likely to occur. According to Haydn Shaw, the 12 sticking points that come up most often are:

  1. Communication: What is the best way to interact with my coworkers (or fellow church members)?

  2. Decision Making: How do we decide what to do?

  3. Dress Code: How casually can I dress?

  4. Feedback: How often and in what ways do I want input?

  5. Fun: How much fun at work is allowed?

  6. Knowledge Transfer: How do we pass on critical knowledge to new employees (or volunteers)?

  7. Loyalty: When is it okay to move on?

  8. Meetings: What should happen in our meetings?

  9. Policies: Are policies rules or guidelines?

  10. Respect: How do I get other to respect me?

  11. Training: How do I learn best?

  12. Work Ethic: How many hours are required, and when must I work them?

So take a minute or two and think about these sticking points. Which one(s) seem to be issues in your workplace, your church, or your family? If we can learn to deal with these, then we will be prepared to tackle any other sticking points that may creep up along the way. But how exactly can we lead the way in dealing with these sticking points?

Five Steps for Leading Through Generational Differences

We need to have a practical process that we can follow when we are confronted with a sticking point. Haydn Shaw recommends 5 simple steps that anyone can use when dealing with these issues.

  1. Acknowledge: Talk about generational differences. The goal here is to “bring differences and frustrations into the open, where they can be resolved.” Ignoring the issue will only make it more of a problem, and frustrations that are kept under wraps will soon produce bitterness and a critical spirit. As we must do with any kind of disagreement in a relationship, we must begin to talk about it. We should voice the hard feelings the sticking point has produced and emphasize that we really do share a common need. Then we can make real progress.

  2. Appreciate: Focus on the “why,” not the “what,” and the common needs. Our first tendency once the issue is on the table is to begin complaining about what is wrong with another generation. To avoid this, we have to redirect the conversation by asking each other to explain why we do what we do. “Why do you prefer a phone call to an email or a text?” “Why do you interrupt the meeting with jokes and silliness?” “Why do you walk in 20 minutes late without offering even an explanation?” These kinds of questions can help defuse the potential powder keg that is a conversation about sticking points.

  3. Flex: Agree on how to accommodate different approaches. Once we understand what the differences are and why we have them, we can begin to flex in order to meet each generation’s need in a way that appreciates their unique culture. Often what matters is that something is done well, not necessarily how it is done. Of course, there are limits to how far we can flex, especially as a church, but there is still usually some room to maneuver. But Shaw warns that “When it comes to generational sticking points, the hardest thing for many people is separating their preferences from the needs of the organization.” We need to learn to flex our preferences while staying true to our church’s core principles.

  4. Leverage: Maximize the strengths of each generation. We can compromise by cutting a deal, but all that does it avoid a conflict. When we learn to use each generation’s strengths to benefit the whole church, we can turn sticking points into opportunities to make our entire congregation better and our ministry more effective. How can the Traditionalists’ strengths make up for the Gen Xers’ weaknesses? How can Baby Boomers help Millennials be more effective and vice versa? These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves.

  5. Resolve: Determine which option will yield the best results (when flexing isn’t enough). Obviously, some sticking points require more than just trying to meet in the middle between the generations. Sometimes a decision must be made to resolve the issue more or less permanently. Shaw explains, “Understanding and flexing will make it far easier to come to a resolution, but you will ultimately have to decide how you will move forward in those situations where everyone’s preferences can’t be accommodated.”

Before we can put these steps into practice, we’re going to have to learn more about the generations so that we can appreciate why each one responds as it does. We’ll begin that next.

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