As a Gen Z, it can be tough to make connections with older colleagues in the workplace. Who are these people, anyways? It's like they speak a different language, dress differently, and have a different set of values. They've experienced different things in their life and are at a different stage of their life. What possibly could you have in common?
You may feel like you have nothing in common, really. Or perhaps you feel you could likely find something superficial to talk about, but nothing that would allow you to connect, to relate, to establish some sort of productive working relationship. Would they even take you seriously if you tried to establish some sort of connection?
Absolutely. And there are ways to make connections with your older colleagues and build productive relationships.
Every single person you work with currently has once been in your shoes. They too, once started out in their career, made a ton of mistakes and wrong moves, but also accomplished a lot. They have gained a ton of experience in getting where they are today, and there are tons of individuals in the working world who are very open to sharing their experience, or to helping mentor someone. Most individuals want to help. (If you're in an organization that frowns on helping each other out in order to elevate the group collectively, or people are on power trips, get out now.)
We are all human, regardless of our age. We have our unique abilities and ideas, and we can all learn from each other - and that is they keyword: Lear
n. One of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to 'Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood'. It's very applicable here.
Here are a few tips:
1. Ask Questions
Seek out individuals you could learn from and ask them 'how would you handle this' or 'have you ever encountered this' questions. If you're unclear on something that was discussed at a meeting, seek out someone more experienced and ask them to help you understand what the issue/objective/etc was.
Instead of making small talk about the weather, ask older colleagues about their career paths - how did they get where they are today? What did work throw at them that they weren't prepared for when they first started working?
2. Communicate Effectively.
You know who is leaving voicemails? The older generation! Understanding that communication styles are different is really critical to relationship building. You may prefer text and social media, but your generationally-different colleagues may prefer phone calls, face-to-face, or even email.
Keep communication professional. Don't use slang or acronyms at work that aren't in the company vernacular (ie: W, Dank, Finna, TFW, Clapback, etc.) and recognize that a conversation is a full one; not bite-sized. Be prepared to converse: be inquisitive and open-minded.
3. Seek Out A Workplace Mentor
One of the best ways to connect and network with colleagues, as well as learn more about the industry, is by establishing an informal mentorship. Find someone you admire and look up to: this could be your boss, but it could also be a manager in another department, which is often more beneficial. The key is that they should be in a position higher up as the goal is to help learn from them and have them help you network effectively.
Once you've found someone, ASK them if they'd be open to being your mentor. It's important to be upfront and honest about your intentions. Let them know you admire them, feel you could learn from them, and would be very interested in developing a mentor relationship.
If they agree, set out some ground rules and recognize that you're taking their time, so plan to use it wisely. Work around their schedule, and be sure to have an agenda, or strong idea, about what you want to discuss. Some ideas for mentorship topics include:
How to navigate the company, the industry, the professional world at large
How to build successful relationships in the workplace (!)
How to develop a personal brand
How to stay motivated and productive at work
Advice on your career goals and how to achieve them
Discuss your strengths and weaknesses, and how to work on leveraging one and improving the other
How to manage office politics, and how to build allies at work
Help with networking to make connections in the industry
Remember, mentorship is a two-way street - while you have a lot to learn from your mentor, you also have a lot to offer.
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