The second issue of ADR Times Perspectives (Vol. 1, No. 2, Nov. 2011, hit my e-mail inbox the other day. Having enjoyed the first issue, I eagerly thumbed through this second issue and found an interesting article by Jasper Ozbirn entitled “Generational Gaps in the Workplace” (at pages 8-9.) According to its author, the purpose of this article is “. . .to provide the briefest of primers on how generational differences can play out in the workplace to create a conflict.” (Id.) Drawing heavily from other sources, Mr. Ozbirne created the following table:

Veterans (1922-1945) Baby Boomers (1946-1964) Generation X (1965-1980) Generation Y (1981-2000)
Communication Formal – Memo Direct and in person – often hate email Immediate – not afraid of emails Fast, informal and frequent – “how r u” is acceptable
Values Separate work and personal life Live to work – workaholics Balance of work and life Work to live – place premium on family/friends
Leadership Style Direct and authoritative Collegial Everyone is equal Collaborative
Rules As the law Respect for Skeptical of – can do it better myself Believe made to be bent – need flexibility
Motivational Phrases “We appreciate your loyalty” “Your input is valuable” “Your way is as good or better than any other” “We appreciate your hard work”
Rewarded By Satisfaction in a job well done Money and title Freedom to do as seen best Receiving personal attention and direction

(“The table draws heavily from Dogan Gursoy et al., Generational Difference: An Examination of Work Values and Generational Gaps in the, 27 INT’L J. HOSP. MNGMT. 448 (2008) and Greg Hammill, Mixing and Managing Four Generations of Employees, FDU MAG. VOL. 12 (Winter/Spring 2005).” Id. )

Looking and studying this table for a few moments, I had an “ah-hah” moment: it provides a key not only to the creation of conflict but, more importantly, on how to resolve conflict! By looking at a party to a dispute in terms of her generational anchor, a negotiator or mediator can use those generational traits to her advantage. For example, with a veteran (aka “The Greatest Generation”), the mediator/negotiator should be more formal, and direct and emphasize the paramount importance of “the law”. It is also advantageous to show empathy by acknowledging her loyalty and satisfaction.

In contrast, if one or both parties to the dispute is much younger than the other party, the mediator/negotiator should be much more casual and informal in style, and rather than focusing on “the law” and its importance, the mediator/negotiator should be more collaborative or equal in approach.

At the same time, his table is marvelous in helping one party stand in the shoes of the other. Let us suppose that the parties to a dispute consist of a Baby Boomer and a Generation Y’er. In a separate session with the Baby Boomer, the mediator/negotiator could use this table to explain to the Baby Boomer how the Generation Y party views life. . . and in talking with the Generation Y party, explain how the Baby Boomer views life. For there to be movement in a negotiation, the parties must be able to view the issues from the other party’s perspective. This table helps tremendously in this regard.

The essence of all this is generational bias of which much has been written. Like all other biases – age, race, sex, religion, sexual orientation – it is real and it exists. It just has not had nearly the publicity or press as these others. But it is there. . . and is definitely something that must to be considered in any negotiation.

. . .Just something to think about!

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