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Boomerese versus Xer-Y Speak
by Nancy Ahlrichs

Nothing frustrates Boomers more than the question, “Why?”—unless it is the blank look and lack of action they get from Gen Xers and Gen Y’s when they say, “We have to get this done by the end of today.” Boomers and their younger employees may use the same language, but the meaning is not the same. I compare it to an American ordering dinner in London. Americans never get what they expect because they speak American, not English.

I cannot explain English cooking, but I can help with the translation between generations. Let’s start with the question, “Why?”

The answer to “Why?” will get you quality results, repeated appropriately, on time, and with the right customer. Yet we resist answering the question—except to make a wisecrack like, “Because I said so.” Anyone foolish enough to use this response knows what happened to the assignment: nothing.

Every generation has a question. Veterans (age 63 and up) want to know “What? What needs to be done?” Boomers (age 44-62), much too competitive to settle for merely knowing what needs to be done will ask, “How? How do you want this task to be done?” We are quite mystified when Gen Xers (age 32-43) and Gen Ys (age 21–31) do not want to hear “How.” No, for both younger generations, their question is “Why? Why do we do this? Why do this with Customer A but not Customer B? Why this time of year? Why not monthly? Why do I have to do this?”

The last “why question” is actually a sincere inquiry. All of them are sincere. They want to understand how this task fits into the bigger picture. They want to do it the right way, with the right timing, and the right outcome. To do that, YOU must answer the question, “Why?” Savvy managers save time and explain why when giving the original assignment.

Failure to answer the questions of each generation will get you (drum roll) nothing. Maddening but true. And there is more.

Boomers hate to give orders because they hate to get orders. Many of us had military fathers who were very quick to make their desires perfectly clear. (I remember thinking that I would tell my father he could not order his family around the way he ordered soldiers around in WW II. Wisely, I kept that thought to myself.) As a result, Boomers use the “royal we”—which actually means “you.” As assignment might be made using the following request: “We have a big week ahead. We need to get this, that and the other done today to make next week go well.” Any Boomer with normal hearing would understand the list of today’s priorities. Gen Xers and Gen Ys will hear an assignment only if it is stated, ““We have a big week ahead. I need for you to get this, that and the other done today to make next week go well.”

Boomerese works with Boomers, but no one else. It is an indecipherable, vague dialect to younger employees who think you are basically thinking out loud about your own workload. We can learn to be direct without barking orders like a drill sergeant.

Even with a direct request, Boomers need to prepare an answer to the inevitable question, “Why?” Teach when making assignments and you will get the desired outcome. The upside is speed, quality and appropriate repetition in the future. All three are much easier to get than a “turkey sandwich” in London!

Nancy S. Ahlrichs, SPHR, is an international speaker, author and human resource consultant. Her newest book, Igniting Gen B and Gen V: The New Rules of Engagement for Boomers and Veterans is available on www.Amazon.com. Visit her website at www.eocstrategies.com.

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