Some boomers find it a challenge to network with Millennials and Gen X’ers at networking events or within their own organization. Even boomers who appreciate the value of networking and enjoy it may feel they have little in common to talk about, stymied by the lingo of younger people who they believe aren’t interested in them.
Several boomers at an inter-generational event I recently participated in said they would rather stick with their own age group, but admitted that attitude had its limitations.
How Networking With Younger People Helps All Generations
In truth, boomers have much to gain by maximizing their networking effectiveness with all generations. It helps them enhance their career game and ongoing relevance, and offers a valuable bridge among the generations at work that benefits everyone.
Remember: networking is not just about walking into a room of strangers or meeting someone for the first time. Equally, or more, important is networking to keep in touch, and stay current, with people at work and in professional or social organizations. Deep networks accumulated over many years represent a key advantage for boomers— and they can be strengthened by adding younger people.
Introduce young colleagues or acquaintances to people you know who could help them. They are hungry to build their networks and learn from experienced people.
So how can you do this well?
Attitude is key. Networking should be approached with curiosity and a sincere interest in the other person.
Start by recognizing that what Gen X’ers and Millennials want in a work context is to feel important; to be heard; to have their ideas sought out; to feel you enjoyed the conversation and to sense your authenticity. These are all essential to feel respected and valued.
Networking is best, too, when it’s a two-way street. Helping younger people through networking can pay dividends for you, as they introduce you to others who could assist your career.
Questions for Boomers to Ask
So take the focus off you and ask younger colleagues or acquaintances questions like these:
- How do you most like to spend your time?
- What’s the most important lesson or insight you’ve gotten from your work?
- What do you wish you knew at the start of your career?
- How do you think work should be restructured to make it more productive and enjoyable?
- How do you think you can be most helpful to teammates?
- What do you see as your most valuable contributions?
Their responses will give you clues about how to follow up and offer help. Then you become a person of interest to them.
4 Networking Steps
Four networking steps that really register with younger generations and demonstrate that you can be a valuable source and connector to further their careers:
1. When networking, if there is someone you know in the room, introduce Millennials and Gen X’ers to him or her. Just before you do, offer a snippet about the person, to lay a foundation for common ground or as a conversation starter.
2. Introduce young colleagues or acquaintances to other people you know, outside of networking events, who you think could help them. They are hungry to build their networks and learn from experienced people. Your offer shows you respect them and the value they might bring for mutual benefit.
Younger people will flock to you if they see you as a connector for them and someone who will make key introductions. You might send an email introduction to the young person and your contact, helping them meet up.
3. Don’t worry about having to be an expert in their music, sports or other interests if you don’t really care to be. That’s inauthentic, and they will pick up on it. Instead, look for what you do have in common and what you can learn from them and their view of the world. Ask, and talk, about that.
4. Convey how they can help you, beyond getting you out of technology jams. Members of Gen X and Gen Y often have useful knowledge, and different perspectives, on market opportunities, ideas for products and services and contacts in startups.
One of the keys to networking with Millennials and Gen X’ers is to get outside yourself and feel excited by what you can learn about, and from, each new person you meet. Don’t forget: they probably feel equally, or more, uncomfortable than you about networking cross-generationally.
You can reach out to build a mutually valuable bridge that transfers to fruitful working relationships.
I feel fortunate to have many friends and colleagues who are much younger than I am. We energize each other; it’s a great feeling. And it does enhance business, sometimes in unexpected ways.
© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2016.
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