Stop the “Gensplaining”

Why talking down (or up) is always rude

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Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

We’re all guilty of it at one time or another.

“Back when I was your age…” a Boomer may begin.

The eye roll and side-eye at a same-age friend can be a wordless expression of disgust.

No one likes a bloviator, pontificator, or pedantic prig. In honor of back-to-school season, let’s talk honestly about how we teach and learn from each other.

If we’re ever going to cross the generational divide and build the most productive teams at work (and to solve some of our world’s most pressing problems), we need to stop the self-important ‘splaining and start listening and collaborating more.

Older people may have the experience and resilience that comes with dealing with lots of real-life stuff but younger people grew up in an area when technology and globality gave birth to endless possibilities at work and in life.

I’ve discovered that my younger team members are open to learning from me provided I don’t lecture or drone. I respect them for what they know (that I might not) and ask them to teach me. And, by asking them questions, I gain a whole new perspective on how they think, work, and live, and why using a period at the end of a text is a major faux pas.

In short, if you’re dealing with anyone of a different generation:

  • Remain open to learning. After all, if my generation knew everything, why is the world such a mess?
  • Listen and don’t just drone on. Pause and ask questions.
  • Even if you know an answer, let your employees, kids, and colleagues fail and learn from their mistakes.
  • If you’re younger, commit to hiring people older than yourself and work on ways of giving feedback and teaching that feel comfortable for both of you. Never assume that older people are incapable of learning new technologies or are slow, stubborn, or simply “won’t fit in.”
  • Check your language and behavior. Be patient when teaching someone (of any age) something new. Use humor as an ice-breaker (but be careful with this one. A bad joke is worse than no joke.)
  • Remember too that making disparaging statements about an entire group based on age is just as heinous as racism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination. If you see (or hear something), say something.

Art can sometimes imitate life. I just finished watching Season 2 of “The Politician.” Without being a Netflix Spoiler (which is almost as bad as being a Gensplainer), I will say that it dealt really well with how diverse characters ultimately found the center of that generational Venn diagram and focused more on similarities than differences.

So, whether you have a 20-something or 70-something tongue, be mindful of how you use it in every conversation and remove the generational digits from your dialogue. Learn to discuss rather than lecture or shut down.

The only place anyone wants to hear a sermon is in a place of worship (and sometimes not even there).

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