Managing Generations and Conflict in the Workplace

Managing Generations and Conflict in the Workplace

I was in Florida last week testing out a pilot training program on managing generations and conflict in the workplace. It was the first time I really combined these two topics into a training session. It’s a lot of material to cover, obviously, and it was a challenge to do it all, even with a four-hour time block to work with. But it’s a nice combination. The level of awareness of generational differences has increased over the last few years since I started writing and speaking about the topic. I think people are on to the hype, and they ask better questions about what these differences really mean and how easy when we are opening a space and also how we deal with them in the workplace.

And the conflict piece fits in very well. The core of my conflict resolution training is always about working through the parts in conflict conversations where we get stuck. This means slowing the conversations down and opening them up. This is perfect for generation-based conflict, because they are based in value differences and often very different views of “what is.” Until you deal with that piece of it, you often go in circles trying to solve problems that have not been correctly defined or based on shared understanding.

Some insights from the workshop:

  • The previous generation designs the jobs, processes, and structures for the current generation. This could be a problem. Generations tend to approach “time” and “place” very differently, so job design (hours, location) I think will be a big issue.
  • I continue to get anecdotal evidence that Millennials have somehow “moved on” from diversity issues (even though that seems incomprehensible to me and I’m not sure that will stick). They raise the “it’s no big deal” flag, but I know it was a big deal for the previous generations who fought for progress. How’s that going to play out?
  • The workplace continues to be overwhelmingly made up of Boomers and Xers, but the most popular topic is NOT Boomer-Xer conflict. They both want to focus on the Millennials. Hmmm.

If you think your organization might benefit from this training program, let me know.


  1. 11.02.2010 at 3:21 pm

    I can’t speak to racial diversity, but I do know that lots of women don’t have feminist awakenings until we get a little older. We’re raised with “girls can do ANYTHING boys can do!” and we internalize it & believe it, right up until we bump our heads on that glass ceiling, or get “mommy tracked,” or find out that our male colleagues are making more money than we are, etc. Boom. Proud (and pissed off) feminist.
    So for young women, it IS no big deal. Now. But it will be.

  2. 11.02.2010 at 3:53 pm

    I hear you, Elizabeth, although the literature about racial identity formation suggests that they will hit that point a bit earlier in life, so I would have suspected that we’d see more of it already. But they are a young generation, so we’ll see…