Inter-generational dynamics

Quartz, my favourite international news-related website/newsletter shared this article about a management exercise about ‘user manuals’. I found it so beautiful, and so much to process, working across generations and being in relationship with someone in some other generation, and not quite fitting into/relating to whatever generation I’m supposed to be in… To me it speaks to the type of systems work, transdisciplinary work we’re doing, it’s not just about coping with people of different ages. As Leah mentions in her piece “The generational divide in today’s modern workplace is unavoidable. … But when generational frustration turns to judgment (which often leads to dismissiveness), no one wins.” I think even once we sort the generations out, or correct for this, different skills and personalities have the same issue. 

The user manual has six questions, and I am definitely going to blog my answers:
  1. My style
  2. What I value
  3. What I don’t have patience for
  4. How best to communicate with me
  5. How to help me
  6. What people misunderstand about me
but the links within of some of the teammates’s perspectives are even better:
Corinne  works remotely and I relate to her strongly, not least aspirationally because of her superb writing and humour.
That question—what do people misunderstand about you?—is not really about other people. It is about how you see yourself.
Her comment about rereading what she shared illustrates the challenge we face with becoming more human at work:
The next day I wake up certain that I have overshared to a wildly inappropriate degree. I open the document in a mild panic and re-read what I wrote. To my surprise, it does not sound like the ranting of an emotional exhibitionist. It doesn’t sound shameful. It just sounds human.
And she concludes:
The point is, the things we find so shameful and embarrassing about ourselves are very rarely as embarrassing or shameful as we believe them to be. Everybody has their quirks. The ability to share those bugs, and to give others the space to share theirs, can actually be a really nice feature.
Leah is my younger self. This year, and the next – 2017 and 2018 – is the time I gave myself to transition to the next stage of my life. I’m not sure what that stage is, but it is definitely a more mature, reflective space – giving, where the previous stage was learning, absorbing, taking. So I am not sure what level of sharing is appropriate. This phrase struck me:
conversations that aren’t consensual.
I work in sanitation and get irate when people don’t want to break taboos around shit, menstruation, wastes, all the things we are evolved to avoid. Because not talking about this kills. At the same time I get equally irate about people sharing inane details about their children with me (I don’t like children) – something we have evolved to indulge. Surely then, we need some way of negotiating what can be talked about and when. I have never thought of conversations as being consensual – I just talk, take it or leave –  and realised my error when reading this. At the same time I am an ardent believer in sharing, vulnerability, I am a full-on Brené Brown disciple. My work and my life is the same thing.
Leah’s bluntness about how the user manual can just skim the surface “All useful to know. But meh.” mirrors my frustration at getting teams to open up, which often doesn’t go as planned, doesn’t go deep enough. But then she follows up with this comment, which also mirrors what I have learnt in the past three years:
It was easy to judge my colleagues’ “weak’ attempts at honesty. Harder was realizing that their silence and restraint was an even more profound form of vulnerability. In holding their cards close, my co-workers demonstrated the importance of moderation, a strength honed through experience and challenges I have not yet known. And in revealing their personalities to me, and to one another, over time, rather than laying themselves bare, they taught me an equally powerful truth—which we’re so deeply deluded about in the age of social media—that exposure doesn’t always equate to honesty.
Lastly, Oliver. To make no bones about it: I struggle tremendously with this archetype. On the one hand, these, what I imagine are mostly white, elder, privileged males trigger me, those are my issues but it’s really a thing, too. On the other, I know that they are very vulnerable in their own way, as Oliver says “These user manuals felt a like a trap, waiting to spring and expose my archaic views about work and life.”
In a previous intimate relationship a lifetime ago I wrote once that I felt hurt by his unwillingness to share, when, in reality, he was unable to. Now, in my current relationship I can see this for what it is, but am still a bit at sea about how to engage with this, to speak to both my and his needs. (I do need to shout out to my special person for being so willing to step out and be vulnerable and try to learn with me. Love.)
Oliver talks about doing what he is told: “instructions I felt I’d been given”.
 I just cannot relate to that. It irritates me that the man can’t think [feel!] for himself. As I said, I’m triggered. I don’t know Oliver and by all counts he’s great. This isn’t personal, and me even writing this is an acknowledgement that this is a generational/sex/class judgement from my side that is problematic, that I need to resolve within myself. To me, this feels like ramblings of an out-of-date generation struggling desperately to remain relevant. I am frustrated with myself for feeling this because it prevents me from tapping into the vast depths of knowledge and (still relevant) experience they can offer.
He scoffs about how millennials carry on about how they want to be treated. But, relating to millennials, we are trying to optimise how to get the best work done. This isn’t about how to treat/coddle us, this is about the best use of your investment into us. We are thinking about your ROI. I feel that Oliver struggles to see that how he defines a word is different from how ‘we’ define it. For example:
community: Oliver seems to think community is a place where we are all treated alike, identical (which isn’t even true, but, hey, triggered). To me, community is a grouping sharing the same vision, or values, and desired outcome, and work within an ecosystem of sorts. The most critical thing about an ecosystem is diversity, and diverse things behave differently (judging a fish by their ability to climb a tree and all that), and to get the ecosystem/community to perform the best, they should be treated differently. In our transdisciplinary work (to simplify horribly), we need the social scientists and the civil engineers to do their work best, and to talk to each other. But sending a social scientist a spreadsheet with a deadline and no context and then letting them get on with it is just dumb. And how about inviting that engineer for some story-boarding? Are you out of your mind? The social scientist and engineer may well share the same office, collaborate on the same documents, but their daily routine and how I talk to them looks very different indeed. Let’s not even get into that some people are morning people, in the office by 6am and some people like to get to work by 11am. I just don’t see why this can possibly be a bad thing. Both those groups are willing to pitch to Monday meetings at 8am, or site evaluations at 6pm, but the rest of the week they do their thing. It’s a conversation.
(yes, these are real examples. I love my job)
respect:  whoooh. I’m looking for a quote that doesn’t get my heckles up. It’s not this one:

 If you’ve read this far, you know I don’t mind writing about myself, and as with most first-person essays, I’m only revealing to you as much of myself as I want. That was true of the user manuals: I opened the door, but not more than I wanted.

I used mine to stake out some territory I felt important, about not making assumptions about what we think we all believe and know.

To me, respect is not ‘on my terms’. Respect about outside of my terms. Empathy. Coming to the party without the ‘only as much as I want’ bit. Or maybe that’s trust. Respect is opening the door as much as is needed. How much you want is a different issue. Respect is stepping back from what you feel is important and looking at what others may feel is important and only then making the informed decision. Yes, what you feel is important, of course, but it is not the only thing. Maybe Oliver gets this but writes it differently, but writing that already breaks me. My problem with this generation, and it’s really a pity that the example of this generation is male, because, you know, triggered, is the ambiguity. In that one sentence there is both ‘my territory’ and ‘not making assumptions about what we all believe’. With that sentence what I see is that “I don’t make assumptions about what you believe – I state what I believe and I don’t care about what you believe”. So it’s true you didn’t make assumptions, but that’s not helpful at all. At the same time, again, I can see that this is Oliver feeling very vulnerable indeed. I do feel sympathetic to that, I really do. I just also remember Margaret Atwood’s saying “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

 It’s not this one either:
Our team often writes about politically sensitive topics, and it’s easy to assume we’re all on the same page. That’s a mistake, and if we’re not comfortable raising opposing views, we risk falling into group-think.
I’ve given up raising opposing viewpoints because our points of view are not ‘opposing’, they’re parallel worlds. Never the twain shall meet. We speak such different languages that I cannot get to a common point to even interrogate where we disagree.
Perhaps his point on a previous manager “Managers had no regard for my responsibilities away from work” indicates a lack of respect, but I’m not sure he sees this as a lack of respect. It’s something, sure, that caused trauma. But to me if someone bugs me, if I was a man, while my wife was in labour, that would be such a profound illustration of lack of respect I’d be out of there straight away. This would not be be to me a simple “using personal information as a cudgel against me”. Respect is not simply what tone and type of words one uses in communication.
Consider this. In Oliver’s defense against the user manual group exercise, he says “[previous employers] had expectations about how I was to do my job, and I had expectations about how they would perform theirs as a manager, and generally we agreed. ” But then he also says ” The phone could ring at night or on the weekend, and I would be expected to drop whatever plans I had and plunge into writing and reporting, often for hours. ” which caused him trauma. Expectations that were disrespectful, so in dire need of re-examining, of which the user manual exercise could be a useful tool. But he sees the user manual as a threatening thing that makes him “wary about blurring the lines between work and home”. I struggle to see why he doesn’t see that the user manual exercise is all about solidifying the line about what is work and what is home, by being more explicit and communicative about it!
He ends with “Ultimately I don’t know how much difference the manuals will make in our day-to-day work—I intended to treat my colleagues with respect and honesty before we began, and that won’t change”.  
To process Oliver’s point on respect, I want to come back to Corinne’s point ( a joke and red herring, apparently, but a real thing in my workplace over which I have exploded at least once before)
I strongly dislike the administrative busywork that tends to fall on women in a workplace, stuff like deciding who brings snacks to the meeting and planning Secret Santa. I express that I would rather not have Secret Santa than waste time talking about Secret Santa.
 To me, it feels like to Oliver, respectful engagement means you do the planning around Secret Santa because that is expected, and you never even engage with why it’s always women who end up doing this. Anyways, triggered. I’m going to need help on writing this post the way I need to, to make it useful.

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