You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again… “We shouldn’t put people in boxes (not physically and not metaphorically).” It’s totally unfair to assume that just because someone demonstrates several of the tendencies common to a person who fits in “Box A” that means they permanently and in all other ways belong in “Box A”.
This is true of generational differences, genders, geographical and cultural differences as much as any other way we tend to group humans in our thought processes.
But at times, thinking of people in terms of “boxes” or “groups” can help us understand them better and work with them more successfully.
When we’re talking about generational differences, one of the things that can help us work better with others is understanding their generational relationship with technology. Specifically, how and when technology was introduced in their lives.
Our relationship with technology says nothing about our intelligence or our competence. It is just a portion of our life experience. Being willing to think through some of these differences can help us understand each other better, and by doing so, we can work better as a team.
Here are three different lenses I’ve noticed.
Now, I don’t pretend that this is an exhaustive or an all-inclusive list. There are other perspectives on technology, and there are other benefits and challenges not listed below. And of course, not everyone fits neatly into a box (which is why we shouldn’t try to put people in boxes!). But maybe, just maybe, understanding someone else’s perspective can help us interact better with them.
Group 1 – Those who encountered technology when they were already active in the workplace.
Work habits and interpersonal habits were formed without computers and email. They learned systems, applications, and computer usage “on the job”, and worked successfully for years without tech tools.
Benefits: These folks are knowledgeable of operational work-arounds when technology doesn’t work or isn’t an option. They have a history of applying interpersonal relationship skills and “elbow grease” at work, before technology made things easier, and will often lean toward people-focused or work-based solutions, including rallying others to roll up their sleeves and work alongside them.
Challenges: Leaning towards working harder might create blind spots around technical efficiencies. This group runs the risk of being slower to embrace new technologies.
If you fit in to this group, don’t be afraid to continue to apply what you know. Your hard work and relationship building matter and can be a great example to others. At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask for help when it comes to the tech, and make an effort to go out of your way to try or to adapt to a new technology solution.
If you work with someone who fits in to this group, offer to help them if your technical expertise can be beneficial, and do so in a respectful and genuinely helpful way. Demonstrate patience with them if they adapt a little slower than you do, and be open to their insights and coaching in other areas.
Group 2 – Those who encountered technology during adolescence or early adulthood.
Interpersonal skills were formed before computer skills, but work habits emerged in the presence of computers and email. They likely had a class in high school or college that taught them computers, email, search engines, coding languages, or applications, and so they were ready to put those skills to work when they arrived on the work scene.
Benefits: These folks often speak both languages: they know the technology, but they also know what it means to learn and work without it. They can speak to those who were raised without computers and those who were raised with them pretty fluently, and see both sides of the conversation, so they may be brought in as a translator between different perspectives.
Challenges: Technology itself has changed, so the way they first learned it may not still apply. Perhaps more importantly for this group, the ability to see both sides of the tech/non-tech coin can cause them to be a mediator or play a translator role from time to time, while continuing to advocate for and respect both parties.
If you fit in to this group, help bridge the gap between folks in the other groups by happily playing the translator. Step up and be an advocate for at least hearing out both perspectives, and practice effective time management skills, so that you can afford to spend a little extra time helping your team.
If you work with someone who fits in to this group, see them as a resource, but be respectful of their time. If you’re having trouble understanding why someone else is moving so fast or so slow with that new technology adoption, seek these folks out for insights and perspectives and then apply what you learned. These folks will likely be able to help you understand the languages of Tech and Non-Tech, and they’ll be glad to see you put their insights to work so they can get back to theirs.
Group 3 – Those who encountered technology in early childhood.
Interpersonal skills, and computer, tablet, smartphone skills were shaped at the same time as other childhood learning. Computer-based tools in early elementary helped them learn colors, numbers, etc., and they have never known a world without the vast power of the internet at their fingertips.
Benefits: These folks often know technology as part of their basic skill set and are as familiar with technology-based solutions as with colors and numbers. Harnessing the power of the internet is a natural response to many questions. They’re often among the first to adapt to new technology.
Challenges: They may demonstrate impatience with slower speeds of change or adoption. They may opt for the tech option (text/IM/email/online form) and shy away from human interaction (meeting, phone call, stopping by someone’s desk), especially for conducting transactions.
If you fit in to this group, remember the power of human interaction, maybe not for yourself, but for some of those you work with. Don’t be afraid to make the phone call or stop by their desk to talk something through face-to-face. When presented with an opportunity to do so, try to think outside of the technology box for other solutions that harness human connections for innovation and information.
If you work with someone who fits in to this group, don’t judge them for, or feel offended by, their tendency towards technology. If they shy away from picking up the phone or meeting face-to-face, it is not a reflection of your value or theirs. Try not to be frustrated if they move or adapt to changing tools faster than you do, and try to help them be patient if you’re slower to adapt to the new tools. Remember all the technology insights they bring to the table and offer to help them find non-tech options when they need them.
We hope you can see how you or your coworkers might fit in to one of the groups, so that you can better understand and communicate with each other. And we would love to hear from you! How do you or your coworkers fit in to any of these groups? What other groups are present in your office and what strengths do they bring to the table? How have you learned to work with them?