Working with Youngsters using Crucial Conversations Skills


Dear VitalSmarts,

I recently joined a new company that I really like. The technology and services I will be working with are last and I’m excited to be part of this thriving organization. The only downside, if you can even call it that, is that the majority of my colleagues, and even my supervisor, are significantly younger than me. While I’ve known this from the start of the hiring process and it’s something I willingly stepped into, I’m simply wondering if you can share tips for navigating an environment where I’m now the “old guy” and the pace and attitude of my colleagues is somewhat different than I’m used to.

Old Guy


Dear Old Guy,

Hmm…pace and attitude. That’s value giving some thought to. I used to be close to offer some nifty Crucial Conversations advice about “negotiating stories” and “setting expectations”—and I’ll offer that in a moment. But as I re-read your question, the words “pace and attitude” jumped out at me. So my first advice is to do a gut check and set some boundaries for yourself.
Here’s why.

Crucial conversations training

Crucial conversations training

I worked with an executive team once that was riddled with bitterness and mistrust. As we have a tendency to unravel the pain I discovered that a few of the executives joined the team once their company had been acquired by the current firm. These guys were sensible, brilliant, but had run a “lifestyle” business; one in which they worked a bit, earned a lot of money, developed great products, but had lots of time to windsurf in the early evenings and weekends. They also happened to be a smudge older than their new colleagues.

They conjointly happened to be an iota older than their new colleagues.
The acquiring firm was chock full of young guns with infinite energy who were used to the pace of a start up tech company. These people slept in their offices and ate pizza for breakfast. It wasn’t long before the lifestyle guys resented the young guns and vice versa. One side saw the other as soulless, while the other saw the former as lazy.

As we have a tendency to sift through the crucial conversations and unraveled the stories that they had concocted concerning one another, the lifestyle guys did a gut check. They asked, “What do I really want?” They realized they did not want to spend the next three years living on energy drinks and Cliff Bars. As they processed their boundaries and presented them to the rest of the team, they realized they were at an impasse. They were unable to develop a creative solution that wasn’t an unacceptable compromise. So, the two walked away; somewhat amicably.

This sobering experience urges me to encourage you to do the gut check now rather than later. Be sure you know if your different “pace and attitude” could run afoul of work norms (hours, pace, quality, ethics) in the new firm. Confirm and determine what your boundaries are, what you really want, where you are willing to compromise, and where you aren’t. Then you’re ready for the crucial conversations.

First, take care to speak overtly along with your new colleagues concerning “pace and attitude” expectations. For example, what kinds of hours represent “full engagement?” How will you assess one another’s contribution? How do individuals connect with each other etc? You’ll do a better job generating a group of queries than I can by simply noticing what’s strange to you in the new place and exploring whether these are norms or simply coincidences.

Second, negotiate stories. This means that you must surface any ways you will diverge from norms clearly up front and let individuals know why you are behaving the way you are. That will help them draw proper conclusions
I wish you the best in the new venture.