Managing Intergenerational Conflict – Review of Research and Best Practices

Managing Intergenerational Conflict – Introduction

As the director of training for Transformative Training I spend a lot of time talking about how we train managers and executives to manage conflict in intergenerational work forces. There’s a lot of conflict right now that’s being talked about between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists. I call this issue “the Generations” because participants line up behind their generation to claim superiority over all others. It is also called Ageism, challenging the qualifications of a team member based on age. Left in shadow, unilluminated, these beliefs can lead to harmful stereotypes and discrimination. As diversity trainers here in Denver, we endeavor to explore and manage age based conflicts and misunderstandings that are alive in a wide range of organizations, in all industries, and in all agencies.

We have a proven approach to transforming destructive conflict into productive conflict for all diverse team members. We start with research results out there on intergenerational conflict to identify the issues clearly. Then we present how personality style is used in order to manage conflict between these groups, and we end with a new communication tool designed to manage the conflict in your teams. This white paper is really designed for managers and executives who are experiencing a lot of conflict based on biases between the generations.

What conflict? We define conflict as a difference of opinion with strong emotions. That’s all it is. So in intergenerational conflict the difference of opinion is based on having a different age. Because people do experience different things growing up at different times, they have a different views of what the truth is. That is why a difference of opinion with emotion arises. But when the strong emotions emerge  – like fear, joy, anger or sadness – break downs can increase because groups fail to self-regulate using communication tools. We believe (and research confirms) all groups can work through emotionally charged conversations in a good way and emerge more trusting of one another. Put another way, all our leadership trainings deal with emotional intelligence because it results in higher levels of engagement and collaboration during conflict, which is an immense bang for the buck.

The Generations

Our generational cohorts are:

  • Traditionalists: 1900 to 1945.
  • Baby Boomers: 1946 to 1964.
  • Generation X: 1965 to 1980.
  • Millennials 1981 to 1994.
  • Generation Z, 1995 to present.

Think about an experience at a big family reunion or holiday. All generations are present, acting differently in different ways. Everyone is working hard to get their needs met, and everybody has different needs. Just serving dinner requires coordinating and planning, and conflicts can occur that create hard feelings to last a lifetime. This is the same for your team or your organization.

Research Studies on Intergenerational Issues:

The Pew Research Center

Pew Research Center published a paper called Millennial Life: How young adulthood today compares with prior generations (February 14, 2019). It sources from micro data describing 1.4 billion individuals using 750 surveys. They crunch all this demographic data and find that millennials are better educated, with women outpacing men in college completion. There’s more racial and ethnic diversity, and it’s the second largest cohort in the US electorate after the Baby Boomers.

West Midland Family Center Generational Differences Chart: 2017

While Pew Research Center data is focused on the demographic conclusions, the West Midland Family Center Generational Differences Chart for 2017 information is not. It is a user-friendly chart for comparing different attitudes of the Generations. For instance, here’s one of the chart pages on Attributes. You’ll notice when you compare that Traditionalists are ethical, Baby Boomers are ethical, and Generation X, well hey, they’re ethical too! As for the Millennials, well, they’re confident, not ethical. And Generation Z, they’re real go-getters but not ethical.

generational differences image

So we start to realize the limits of this kind of research because of its distinct anecdotal flavor. Someone somewhere is using these types of stereotypes to make assumptions and conclusions about the Generations to help us “understand” better, I suppose. For my purposes, it stands as a powerful testament to popular implicit biases we experience. Here are the intergenerational differences on Work Ethic:

Starting with the classic Traditionalist work ethic, here it is:

  • It is expected that you are dedicated.
  • You pay your dues
  • Work hard
  • Respect authority.

Think about a traditionalist that you know and think about these aspects. So I’ll think about my mom. Okay. Is she dedicated? Absolutely. Does she hold the attitude of pay your dues with regard to work? Yes. Does she work hard? Absolutely. Does she respect authority? Yes. She does respect authority. So I can start to think, wow, this is true. I know one person and because I know one person, that makes it true for all the Traditionalists.

Let’s go to Baby Boomers, that’s me by the way. I was born in 1963.

  • They’re driven. Am I driven? Yeah.
  • Workaholic? 60-hour work weeks? Well, you can talk to my first wife about that. I would say, yes, I’ve definitely been workaholic in my life.
  • Work long hours to establish self-worth and identity and fulfillment. Well, yeah, I did. I wanted to be an attorney. “Be an attorney” motivated me by having my self-worth established around an identity of being a lawyer.
  • Did I work long hours in law school? Yes, I did, alongside my brother, working for my immigration lawyer mom! I still like to work late sometimes.
  • Am I committed to quality? Absolutely. I’m very much committed to quality, except in my handyman work. This seems mostly true for me, so it’s mostly true, okay?

Now, we’ll go to Gen X. I’m going to single out Jeannie Gunter, President of Transformative Training, born in 1968.

  • Yes, she’s very much in the balance.
  • Work smarter and with greater output and not work longer hours. That is true. She really has been a good source of support for me to do more of this, working smart and with greater output not working longer hours.
  • Self-reliant? Absolutely. She wants to be self-made. She wants to have her company be profitable and valuable
  • Want structure and direction. Yes, she likes to schedule in her free time! So that must be true for Generation X. I know one person. It must be true for everybody.

Millennials next, and this would be my oldest daughter Adrianna, and so here we go with her.

  • She is ambitious, yes. She aspires to be a leader.
  • What’s next? That’s true. She’s always looking around the corner to see what’s next. She loves thinking about that.
  • Multitasking, yes. She can keep all the irons in the fire much better than I can. That’s for sure.
  • Entrepreneurial? That is also true. She wants to start her own business. She likes to work with other people and connect that way. She is a great networker for her own company. Based on this one person who I know so well, I say yes! I conclude it must be true.

These are the Generations, rife with conflict that is etched in stone and immutable… or is it?

Gallup Inc. 2016 How millennials Want to Work and Live. The six big changes leaders have to make.

The Gallup daily tracking survey has been going since 2008 with a thousand US adults each day, 350 days a year. That’s a massive long-term database. They include the Gallup panel with 75,000 panel members completing surveys via the web. They also include Gallup’s Q12 employee engagement survey 1996 to 2015 which is an amazing survey. 31 million respondents, 3.7 million work groups, 21 major industries. And finally, the Gallup customer engagement survey in 2001 to 2015. 18.3 million respondents, 370 client organizations in 61 industries.

So, what do we get from Gallup? Well, they have six axiomatic insights for managers and executives to contemplate when dealing with Millennials:

  1. Millennials don’t just work for a paycheck; they want a purpose.
  2. Millennials are not pursuing job satisfaction; they are pursuing development.
  3. Millennials don’t want bosses; they want coaches.
  4. Millennials don’t want annual reviews; they want ongoing conversations.
  5. It’s not just my job; it’s my life.
  6. Millennials don’t want to fix their weaknesses; they want to develop their strengths.

This last axiom ties into the Gallup product, the Clifton Strengths – or StrengthsFinder personality style assessment. StrenghtsFinder is used in corporations to focus development utilizing people’s natural capacities in 34 different priorities. They get more productivity on teams by looking at people’s strengths rather than looking at their weaknesses and trying to fix and manage them to improve the parts that they’re not so strong in. It also ties into the concept of appreciative inquiry, which is it’s a thought process that groups can engage in to brainstorm and create new innovations and collaborate as a team based on positive questions that we’re asking one another. It’s been found to be highly, highly effective. David Cooperrider is the one who has brought this forward in the research and in the journals. And if you haven’t heard about it, check it out. It’s amazing.

So these are the Millennials, and the idea is that if you want attract Millennials you need to set up your management workspace to meet these needs. Sounds reasonable, but what about everybody else?

The Hay Group: Managing a multi-generational workforce. The myths vs. the reality.

Now, the Hay Group shines light on the paradox involved in thinking about managing conflict between the Generations. The Hay Group’s ‘myths versus the reality’ is from 2011 and based on assessments that they’ve done. This one is the Best Companies for Leaders questionnaire. It’s a 2014 survey included around 18,000 participants from 2,100 organizations. They also have an insight database that over the past five years includes five million employee participants from across the world and their perceptions of their work environment. Finally, they mine their Organizational Climate survey with 57,600 participants collected in the last three years.

So what does this information tell us? What is a popular myth and the true reality here?

  • Myth: Younger generations look to their leaders to provide meaning and purpose to their work. We saw those types of attitudes reflected in the Gallup survey and Generational Chart.
  • In reality, engaging people in the purpose of the organization as an idea only emerges as being strongly valued in leaders by people over the age of 55, which at this point are not the younger generations. This attitude is more strongly held by Baby Boomers and Traditionalists. So, the reality is that older people hold this idea of having leaders provide meaning and purpose to their work as well as the younger generations.
  • Myth: Organizations need to use different approaches to retain the younger generations and that a work-life balance is more important than career progression. When I think about my daughters, I think about my wife, I think about other generations. I’ve already proven this to be true because of my confirmation bias. I know someone who feels this way, so it must be true for everybody.
  • In reality, all generations cite the same three attributes as the primary reason for staying at their company. Everybody agrees on these, and my experience confirms these intergenerational values. They are:
  1. They want exciting and challenging work.
  2. They want opportunities to advance.
  3. They want autonomy and freedom.
  • Myth: Each generation needs to be managed differently in order to keep them engaged and motivated. So, my mind starts to reel as a trainer responsible for training managers. “Now it is time for you to learn the different management priority for each generation!” I mean, that would be crazy. Thankfully that’s not even required.
  • Reality: The research shows that there are insignificant generational differences in expectations of organizations. All generations feel the same way in how they want to be managed. They want the following:
  • Team commitment.

There’s just a little dip going down to the millennials and then coming up again to the Generation X and Generation Z on each side. But it’s so insignificant when you look at it. So that true management reality to hold on to: Everybody wants the organization to really perform well in these areas.

IBM Smarter Workforce Institute: Generational Differences at Work are Much Ado About Very Little (2015).

This research utilizes the IBM Smarter Workforce database and employee engagement results from over 33 million employees worldwide and 1.7 billion survey responses. It is a vast survey and an academic based study. What they find is:

  • Academic researchers dispute that generation gaps matter or even exist in the workplace. So let that sit there. In this study, just zero to 2% of work attitude differences are attributable to generation. And when you see the chart from the database it is clear that there are only very tiny shifts in attitudes over time. So the big picture here – Everyone basically wants the same thing. Their attitudes around work are similar. There’s way more in common than separating people when it comes to managing a workplace.
  • They also find that targeted generalizations can amount to socially sanctioned stereotyping or even discrimination. Think about that. If you walk around with the West Midland Generational Differences Chart from 2017, you might say, “I really need someone who’s highly ethical like a Traditionalist or a Baby Boomer. Oh, well. I guess the Millennials and the Generation Z’s aren’t ethical, sorry guys.” That is the power driving the Generations issue for people. Our implicit bias engages stereotyping to create discrimination and keep a safe distance away from them. It’s a natural occurrence for humans, and especially for managers who are afraid to receive feedback regarding implicit biases around the Generations. So, generalizations can be really damaging in an organization and create perpetual conflict. This is when we get calls because things are getting worse in the workplace.
  • They find organizations can engage millennials the same way they engage Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers. And that is a real takeaway here: Yes, there are some generational differences relating to age. We all have them. We have different experiences. I’ve definitely experienced some things that my younger and older co-workers have not experienced. But when we’re talking about managing conflict in a workplace between these groups, we have to start with an understanding that these age groups have similar needs from the workplace. When you listen to their opinions on the way that they should be treated at work, we see far more commonalities than differences.

Don’t focus on having to fix your workplace because its not really good with millennials. Throw that whole thing out. The study shows intergenerational conflict is more likely to arise from errors of attribution and perception than from valid differences. We start the conversation about creating a workplace that’s going to be good for everybody and we are informed by those research conclusions.

Ageism and Personality Diversity

Generational differences in the workplace post 2

Differences of age is a Primary facet of human diversity and difficult to change. We treat it as an aspect of diversity and reference our Dimensions of Diversity chart. We have in the middle of this chart personality, the most permanent. And so when we are wanting to manage conflict arising from age diversity issues, our best tool is to focus on personality style differences first. It is like pulling back the bow before you send the arrow. Personality style diversity is the central theme in human diversity, is extremely difficult to change, and can build trust among team members who get to know one another on a deep level. This is why the personality style identity is a foundational part of conflict management conversations. The chart shows personality in the core, the bulls eye. The next ring outside of it is primary diversity which includes age, gender, race, ethnicity, physical ability, sexual orientation. These somewhat immutable differences between people are glaring. Within each group there is a diversity of thought, and a diversity of behaviors that emerge in a workplace on a wide range of issues for each group. But underneath it, within each one of those groups, people have different personality styles that impact how they communicate about themselves and express their diversity.

And as you move out from the primary into the secondary, and then the organizational realm, these aspects can change even more quickly. So, when we first talk about our differences of opinion and discuss our emotions based on personality style, we offset the negative impact of stereotypes and discriminatory conversations, change attitudes and slow down unchallenged automatic thoughts.

The Foundation of Trust based on Personality Diversity

Focusing on personality styles safely moves us away from negative stereotyping each other during conflict. We can get into alignment because it does create a foundation of trust. Why is a foundation of trust important in organizations? Well, as we learned from Patrick Lencioni ‘s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and from Chris Argyris before him, training managers and executives in emotional intelligence programs improved the foundation of trust. Good facilitators know how to talk about the idea of conflict based in personality style differences to quickly create a foundation of trust.  It can be vulnerable to talk about personality style, and we demonstrate authenticity and trustworthiness to reveal ourselves to one another.

Collective results image

Now, some people don’t like to be put into a box, and they don’t want to talk about personality style. And personality style may not feel safe to talk about. And some people are more comfortable talking about intergenerational conflict by using their West Midland Center charts. That is because stereotypes are more comfortable for a lot of people to discuss, Some feel uncomfortable to get vulnerable and talk about your personality challenges and strengths. But as Lencioni has shown – and Argyris before him (and tons of research on this), when we have a conversation about personality style it builds a foundation of trust because we agree on your strengths, and we agree on your challenges. And when I see you as self-aware, I feel that I can trust you. From the foundation of trust then your organization can start to engage in productive conflict.

High functioning teams that create amazing innovations engage in productive conflict. The word productive is very important because destructive conflict cannot be resolved. In productive conflict I can claim, “Well, here’s my strength that I’m bringing here. I’ve also got some blind spots that I don’t really see, so tell me your side of it.” And that’s how these productive conflicts create new ideas and easily include everybody in the conversation, especially diverse groups.

This naturally leads to commitment to team. When we have productive conflict, all of a sudden I’m feeling like, wow, I’ve got a place here. My voice is respected and I’m going to commit to the team. I’m going to commit to the goals because I’ve been included in the conversation and had my say so, and there’s buy-in around that.

The next occurrence is accountability. We’ve just made a commitment based on buy in. Now, what happens when we break our commitment? We’re going to have accountability conversations. How do we have accountability conversations? Well, they don’t happen if there’s no foundation of trust. They don’t happen if you do not know how to have productive conflict. And if there’s no commitment you’re definitely not going to go out of your way to have an accountability conversation, especially a positive accountability conversation.

Don’t slam people in a backhanded way by gossiping about one another, that is easy. You always bring accountability as guardrails to the commitment you just made. You say, “Oh, we’re getting off track here. Let’s keep moving forward. What was the agreement and where’s the breakdown?”

Finally, we focus on collective results. By focusing on collective results, we can quantify what we’re doing and how it’s working out. We also keep one, two or three big results in the forefront of the company communications, every day. Managers focus the attention of the team, of the organization on these results to achieve. I think the success in Ritz Carlton customer service is a result of their companywide stand-up meetings, and that they start the day by talking about the collective results is compelling. And that is a universal outcome for any industry, for any company, for any organization. You can create better results if you focus everyone’s attention on it in a positive way.

Operational Culture of Managing Conflict

When I started out my work as a lawyer and I started my own company, I signed up for Tony Robbins coaching and they had me do a DISC assessment. This was 20 years ago when I first learned about my personality style and how to adapt my communications. The results exceeded all previous work experiences, so when I started to build up my company and make my operations manual, I included DISC.

Gen post 4 DISC

In my table of contents to my operations manual you can see that every person who worked for me did a professional and personal mission statement. We supported our staff by allowing them to assert where everyone wanted to go professionally and personally, and what was important to them.  We also trained them in active listening and feedback communications based in DISC. We held the expectation that everyone who worked in our organization had to learn how to talk in this way to our clients and to one another. We did diversity trainings, and everyone had to be conversational in DISC so that they could talk about breakdowns, challenges, and their strengths through the lens of DISC.

We had 4 generations on staff, and plenty of productive conflict. We did such an amazing job in that office, serving the community and dominating the competition. I built it up over only 8 years and sold that law office, whereupon I started training other lawyers and working in the field of organizational development, communications, management consulting and leader development. It’s been great.

I have seen leadership development based in personality style-based communication create a common language that everyone can use. I have seen managers make quantum leaps into emotional intelligence and improve their coaching and mentoring effectiveness. All generations want mentoring and want to learn how to grow in their job.

Why we prefer DISC:

So which personality style do we use? Well, we love the DISC. The DISC has four variables D, I, S, and C. It’s so simple. Also, because it’s got only four variables, you can use it to quickly assess other people on your team, vendors, clients. It is a tool that not only allows you to discuss your own strengths and challenges competently and with a high level of emotional intelligence, you can start to understand other people’s emotional background based on personality style. So it’s incredibly helpful that way.

I love the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) because it is such a great tool for learning about yourself. However, it’s not as easy to assess other people and strategize how to manage a conflict with others because it’s difficult to work with 16 variables. I don’t want to knock MBTI though because Lencioni loves it. Lencioni, when he done his trainings, he asked people do the MBTI and they can talk about their personalities with a deep degree of vulnerability and emotional intelligence. So it’s great for that. But it can’t be used easily, and if it’s not used easily, it’s not used. So people often experience confusion after taking an MBTI class, and for this reason it doesn’t gain traction into the organization to create a cultural shift towards more emotional intelligence and engagement like DISC.

StrengthsFinder is another one that we like. There’s four basic groups and they basically track the DISC four groups, but then there’s 34 different strengths. In terms of having conversations about strengths, it’s awesome. However, it’s tough to use interpersonally day in and day out, and there is a bias against talking about and working on your challenges for fear that you will be wasting time and energy. So that’s why we like the DISC because you can quickly and easily engage in meaningful conversations about personal strengths and challenges.

So how do we do a DISC assessment? It’s so easy. Right now if you’ve got a piece of paper, and you got a pen, I would say take it out, and show yourself how easy it is to actually do a DISC assessment. You draw a big plus sign. You go to the top. Fast pace, decisive, bold or you go to the bottom, methodical, think things through, and cautious. So because there is this continuum of being fast-paced or methodical it’s easy to assess. And then you can also use behavior to determine where you are on

Strengths and Challenges:

So the strengths for the D dominant: Driven to get things done, deals with crisis and pressure upfront and straightforward willing to debate. Challenges: Abrasive, likes to be right, lacks compassion, creates win-lose situations, motivated by results and achievement and in conflict, they confront directly. They’re competitive and they like to be right.

The strengths of the I influence: Empathetic, encourages open dialogue, provides reassurance, optimistic. Challenges: Talks over others, glosses over the tension, too many balls in the air, easily distracted, takes things personally. Motivated by positive energy and making a difference of course, and conflict. I’s use humor, wants to maintain good relationship, may get emotional and take things personally.

The strengths of S steadiness: Flexible, compassionate, good listeners, communicates tactfully, loyalty and dedication. Challenges: Conflict diverse, avoids tension, gives in to please others, speaking up, let’s issues linger, motivated by harmony and positive relationships, and in conflict we become conflict avoidant, smooth things over. S’s can take things personally as well.

The Strengths of C, conscientious: Finding the root of the problem, focusing on facts, level-headed, gives other space. Challenges: Defensive, hard to read or withdraw, passive-aggressive, overly critical, motivated by quality and precision. In conflict, C’s needs time to get a rational perspective, might withdraw, doesn’t like emotionally charged interactions.

DISC makes it easy to see how conflict can arise from normal interactions of different styles. The C’s and the I’s are opposites, and the D’s and the S’s are opposites. It is foundational that strongly held differences of opinion are going to be heightened between opposite personalities. This is why personality style is such a great way to start conversations relating to conflict. It is obvious how our thoughts, these traits, these strengths and these challenges are the source of so many conflicts in teams and across organizations. And from this place we pivot into conversations about differences in race, age, and differences in gender issues. Different personality styles prefer to have these conversations in different ways, and teams can more easily engage in sharing opinions, needs and emotions with one another. This leads to increased buy -in to make changes and hold one another accountable.

When you can adapt your communication styles to accommodate another personality style within the conversation around age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, you create a basis of trust and an ability to come together to have productive conversations around what to do with these issues. Organizations struggle with creating diversity programs because of resistance, usually around white men like me not wanting to have uncomfortable conversations about their privilege. We have really a hard time listening and buying into allowing different races, genders, and ethnicities to speak their truth. Often, we target the speaker as a troublemaker or as consumed with anger to deflect responsibility for continuing to ignore unequal treatment and to benefit from self-serving bias. The increased trust arising from acknowledging personality styles gets us to the heart of the matter quicker. And that is a blessing. That is where you want to be in dealing with these types of conflicts.

intergenerational conflict – Text vs Talking:

Here is an example of a typical Intergenerational conflict issue and how personality styles improve the resolution. My Gen Z co-worker might say “Mark, I just wish you would send an email or a text message. You always want to call me and talk on the phone or even worse – set up a meeting face to face. And I just think – well he’s an older dude and that’s what he’s used to. But he’s got to come across and catch up to technology, use some of these new software programs, and I want him to start to talk to me with my preferred ways of communicating that are electronic. It’s easier for me.”

So, when I hear that, I choose to focus on personality diversity: “Well, I really like to connect because I’m relational. I like to air things out, and I like to have a lot of back-and-forth, and I can’t do that as well electronically. I don’t get a sense for how things I’m saying are landing for you electronically. I admit, I hate learning new software, but that is more about not liking to slow down and process small chunk details. Of course email and text are great for moving data back and forth and there’s tons of conversations that we can handle electronically that I’m cool with, but on some issues I need to be able to talk in person in order to get a read on what’s happening for you and to make sure we are good. So that’s why I need to have this communication done in a different way.”

Positive Accountability 

Positive Accountability is a communication tool we have developed to quickly acknowledge what’s not working and create buy-in for taking positive action. It combines critical thinking with positive commitment resulting in creative solutions. And it’s based on Cooperrider’s appreciative inquiry, QBQ which is a book by John Miller, and Tribal Leadership by Logan, King and Fischer-Wright. Tribal Leadership is a fantastic book that talks about studies regarding language and the effect of certain language in the workplace in terms of creating engagement and empowering teams. Language communication tools have been shown to be incredibly effective in taking teams where you want them to go.

Positive Accountability starts with the “disempowering question”, because this is how our implicit biases and automatic thoughts are often communicated to others. We all have intrusive thoughts that come in to constantly judge people as safe or not safe. It’s a normal and old way that our brain works. So we start with these types of disempowering questions and judgments of others because they fuel conflict. These are phrases that usually begin with a “why”, “when”, or a “who” to leverage blame and shame in order to change a behavior. How many parents have ever used shame to change behavior? Yeah, it works for a little while, but then there’s a huge negative impact on the relationship. I mean, in the heat of the moment we’ve all done it because it all works. And this is our humanity that we’re working with now, these disempowering questions. They reflect victim thinking and a lack of personal accountability. The impact is that we start to create a culture of victim thinking and lack of personal accountability when we’re always leveraging blame and shame to change behavior.

In our training we bring out these disempowering questions with humor and facilitate groups to give voice to the disempowering questions relating to real issues of concern. You might say something like, “Why do we have to keep changing things that work?” or “Who keeps filing those reports late? We have reports that are not getting filed on time. Who keeps doing that?” “Why can’t we hire more diversity? Why are old white men in charge?” “When was the last time we delivered on time. Everyone said we’re going to deliver on time this time, but we didn’t do it. When was the last time we actually delivered on time?” And as the team deliberately puts that into the room, they can feel the disempowering effects of these complaints.

From here it becomes obvious that we need to talk about complaints in a different way. Positive Accountability focuses on big issues and urgent concerns that most people are afraid to bring up to managers and executives. We train you to prepare for this conversation by first identifying your disempowering question, and to have fun with that. We welcome the anger, that victim side, the hopelessness, whatever it is. We bring it all up to ourselves first, in order to work with it and change it to an empowering question. Yes, you are doing a self-intervention and yes, it takes emotional intelligence to do this. But again, personality style can help you identify challenges you experience over and over again and understand how to communicate your unmet needs to others.

This is the formula for Positive Accountability: State your strength. Then you create a question that starts with “what” or “how”. You next add “can I”, and you end the question with a positive action that’s data driven. This formula will naturally inspire others to answer the question in a collaborative way.

Then listen. Listen carefully and listen to understand, do not listen to respond.

Now, there are some groups that can’t handle this communication tool. They think it sounds fake, and they may say they don’t want to be controlled in the way they talk. That is ok – they’re not ready yet. Maybe they don’t have a foundation of trust, or they may not feel motivated to learn how to engage in productive conflict. These are pre-conditions that have to be met in order for teams to use this accountability tool well. But on the other hand, when a trained leader on the team starts to speak in this way, it naturally starts to shift teams away from the dominant victim thinking.

Here’s an example:

“I enjoy looking at the details. How can I help you get support to consistently feel accepted by the younger workers?”

So the first part, “I enjoy looking at the details” … what kind of personality would enjoy working out the details? That would be the strength of C. From this place of strength and power, then “how can I help you get support?” When I ask that question “how can I help you”, I’m taking the step towards accountability. I am requesting to enter into a new agreement with you that requires me to hold myself accountable first. So the accountability conversation starts right here.

Here’s another one. “I am committed to maintaining balance and increasing productivity on the team. What can I do to help resolve this breakdown around emails and meetings and get everybody on the same page?” This is going to be coming from an S who values balance and harmony. And when the answer comes, listen to understand and get ready to commit do a clear action. Determine what you will do and what you won’t do, or the request might not be within your responsibility. When you identify your action, determine when, how and who can you do it with. When can we follow up? Start to build the act of accountability around this new idea and then take action to support it.

Next we have an I: “I have I have a big-picture perspective on this. What can I do to bring the younger team members into more decision-making roles?” The reason why I’m talking about me and my strength is to model the conversation around strengths. It could easily go into challenge and that would be ok as well – “I have a hard time staying focused on small details. What can I do to bring the younger team members into more decision-making roles?” I’m being authentic, I’m being real about what I need and how I’m showing up in the conversation. So that’s why we have that first statement. The listener can feel that you are being true and honest, because they know my personality from experience. If you’ve interacted with me even a little bit, you know this already. By stating it, you make it explicit, you put it on the table and then you start to work together to make a new agreement and collaborate to hold one another accountable. It’s brilliant.

The last example: I am feeling urgency and I’m driven to get something done quickly. What can I do to support your choosing a younger team member or a person of color to take on the new deal?” So here’s the D who is taking a bold stand and modeling accountability in the conversation. Choosing a non-white and younger team member is already agreed upon, probably through diversity goals. So it’s a really, really powerful tool, positive accountability.

managing intergenerational conflict: Conclusion

This is how we work on issues of intergenerational differences by starting to focus on personality strengths and challenges. If you want managers to use conversations to break through conflict, lay out the differences of opinion, and deal with emotion that come up then this is a great way to do that. Then your teams will move forward into creating the next wave of innovation in your productivity and positivity in your company.

So this again, this is an inquiry. It’s appreciative inquiry. It is acknowledging the space that you can contribute in the conversation. It’s supporting you to contribute, to collaborate. It’s a very high-functioning tool that will create a big shift in your organization when a lot of people start using it. So it’s a language-based intervention. And that’s why we delay the focus on intergenerational issues when we are working with conflict. We start by focusing on personality styles in order to level the playing field, in order to get people comfortable talking about deep, indelible differences.

I have facilitated conflicts between younger ones and the old guard where the younger is angry because the elder hates texts or emails and wants personal communications and hand holding and wants to talk on the phone all the time. We ask about old guard’s behavior using DISC reasons first, identify him as an SI, and the trust begins to build and lights go on for the younger. The same for the younger person’s behavior who just wants to do text, doesn’t want to have meetings, and doesn’t see the value in face to face. Of course he is a C. We talk about how our opinions are sourced from our personality style.

So we all agree on fairness and equity – getting everyone’s needs met in certain situations. We’re going to want to have personal meetings. And in other situations we’re going to want to put the data back and forth electronically. It all makes sense. If you have a preference one way or the other, we want to know why you prefer that. Not based on the fact that I’m a millennial. Not based on the fact that oh, I’m a Generation Z and this is just what I want to do. That doesn’t cut it. What’s going on for you? What’s the source of your emotion around it? What is your true opinion on this?

And then you can start to build bridges because it all makes sense based on personality style. Because again, the research shows that all people want to be managed basically the same way. They want their work place to offer the same basic kinds of benefits and management traits across all different generations and emotional intelligence is required. Use personality style in diffusing intergenerational conflict.

Mark Daly, October 10, 2019

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