There’s no hiding it anymore.
You’ve heard the backlash. Scratch that, you’re living it.
People think you’re spoiled. Entitled. More concerned with reality TV than actual reality.
You’re no different than anyone else at your age. A Gen-Xer myself, it wasn’t long ago that my generation was the proverbial punching bag. (Just check out this beauty from 1993. Nowadays, people have mostly just forgotten about us.)
Here’s the thing: Regardless of how unfair or prejudiced others’ views of “Millennials” are, it’s the reality we live in. Unfortunately, society doesn’t work like the justice system: In the eyes of many, you’re guilty until proven innocent.
Which may lead you to ask: How do I break down those barriers? How can I show my true colors?
The advice I’m about to give isn’t just for you; it’s actually applicable to anyone. (I’m still trying hard to live these lessons myself.) But I’ve been privileged to learn from very wise mentors through the years, so I’m hoping to pay it forward.
And since your generation is the future, I’m hoping these lessons prove as useful for you as they have for me.
So, here goes:
1. What you say is important. But even more important is how you say it.
Take that recent story about the interns that got fired, for example. (You can read the details here.) Already chafing under the company’s dress code, this group was incensed at what they perceived to be an injustice–but what was in reality a reasonable exception. The interns responded by drawing up a petition, signing it, and then submitting it to management.
The main problem here wasn’t questioning the dress code. Questions are good: They’re how we learn. And challenging traditional ways of thinking can be beneficial–if done the right way.
But in this case, the communication was shortsighted and over-aggressive.
Look, you have great ideas. And you’re already changing the way we work.
But remember: Respect begets respect. Show consideration and dignity in the way you approach others, and they’ll be more willing to listen to what you have to say.
2. You’re going to get criticism. Learn from it.
No one likes to get negative feedback. And unfortunately, as hard as you try to deliver your message the right way, not everyone will do the same for you. In these cases, it’s easy to let our emotions take over the thinking process.
But here’s the thing: We all need criticism. It feels great to be around people who always agree with us, but it’s the disagreements that truly help us grow.
So try to focus on the message, not the messenger. And even if that message is conveyed in a way that’s less than ideal, remember:
The ones who challenge us are the ones who make us better.
3. Actions build character.
You might think of it like building a bridge–between who you are, and who you want to be. First, you need to figure out where you want to go. Then, with every positive action, you add another brick.
It takes time, but eventually you reach the destination–a better you.
Then, it’s time to start building the next bridge.
4. Learn first. Then teach.
For many years, I worked for an awesome organization that was known for its forward thinking and use of technology. But I’ll never forget what I was told on my first day:
“We may do things differently here than you’re used to. You may see a way to improve, or want to contribute an idea for change. That’s great. All that we ask is that you learn the way we do things first, and give it a bit of time. If you still feel you have a way to improve, feel free to communicate your thoughts to your team lead, manager, or any department head.”
In time, I saw first-hand the wisdom in this.
Not only did I learn loads from others’ experience and a proven method, but also it made those with more experience more willing to listen to my ideas when the time came. And once I became one of “the old guys,” it kept me open to new, fresh ways of thinking.
Wherever your journey takes you, I hope these principles serve you well. Get out there and prove the naysayers wrong. Show us what you’re made of.
Above all, take some time to learn from us.
Then, we’ll be more than ready to learn from you.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.