Do you speak Gen Y?

Lately I am noticing that Generation Y is getting the bad rap for the inability or unwillingness of non-Gen Y to communicate effectively. 

First I disclose that I am a borderline baby boomer / Gen X’er.   So the closest I get to Gen Y is the proximity of the letter in the alphabet.  Yet this doesn’t stop me from seeking to understand their perspective, trying to adapt my communication style to connect and even modifying my approach to work when necessary.

So what got me thinking about this topic?

Of late several people have commented on how frustrating it is to keep business going the way they have done it before.  Some of the comments I have heard attributed to Gen Y as the reason:


  • We had to let go of some of our new hires. These Gen Y’ers just don’t understand what it means to work.


  • I have to do the work myself because these Gen Y’ers never get around to it.


  • Gen Y’ers treat work days like weekends and come and go as they please.


  • I can’t get this Gen Y person to stay past 7:30 at night. When I was his age I put in the long hours because I had to.


  • These Gen Y’ers just don’t want to do the menial tasks.  I don’t either but I sure did when I was a graduate.


  • This Gen Y guy wanted to be paid twice as much as I started out on and he had NO experience.


  • We had a late night so this Gen Y team member took it upon herself to just show up a midday the next day.  Said she needed some sleep. So did I but I came in to do the work.


A real life epiphany

The other day I was waiting for some takeaway at my favourite café. The café was packed so I had to wait longer than usual.  I didn’t mind and instead took the opportunity to observe what was going on. 

What stood out was the owner rushing around clearing tables and making room for the next patron. This owner is a super friendly person, larger than life in his generosity and engagement with patrons.  He creates a culture that makes you want to come back. Yet on this day he was not his ordinary self. Instead he was flustered.

So it was just as he was about to go back to another table that he turned to me with an exasperated look.  He then opened up and shared with me his frustration about the challenges he has getting the ‘Gen Y” staff to do the jobs that to him seem so obvious – like clearing a table so someone can sit down.  Instead he took this job himself and got them working in the other parts of the café.  He explained that these ‘Gen Y’ kids just don’t notice things, take there time and seem so casual about it all.

I continued to listen attentively fully giving my support as an ear so this owner could get this off his chest.

Then I paused, reflected and said “Maybe its not the Gen Y’ers that have the problem...Is it possible that you see them in a way that for you makes them act this way.  Perhaps the belief you carry in your head contributes to the situation or the perception?”

Seeing the owner again a few days later he said my question really stayed with him.  To me this is the start and perhaps may create a change in perspective. 

My belief about beliefs

At the core of our communication issues with people we don’t understand are often belief systems that clash.   

Beliefs are deep within us and underlie our behaviours - what we do that people can see.  Because we only see the behaviour in others then we presume the belief based on our own worldview.   Beliefs also are anchored in culture, family, history, world events, social networks and life experiences. 

These belief systems form the basis for thoughts we carry around in our head. Once they are in our head we start to filter everything through this view point.

For now consider that beliefs originate in your head and therefore have to end in your head. (Of course there are more complex aspects but we can cover those elsewhere). 

What we tend to do

So for example, if we think a person is lazy then when we see them walking slowly we might say to ourself – yes he is lazy today. If it happens a few more times we then attribute and generalise this belief to the person overall. If we see this pattern in lots of similar people we build up a stereotype. ONce formed our opinions are hard to change.

What might be a challenge

We don’t pause for a moment and think from another perspective.  If we did we might consider noticing how nice it is that a person can remain so relaxed and calm in a high pressured business moment. 

Even further down the results chain we miss the fact that the relaxed Gen Y person in this example are likely better able to leave work, go home and not take the physical or mental affect of the work home. Compare this state to many who hold onto the belief that we must work harder, more intense and not have a break to prove our worth.  The result is we build up our stress levels working harder faster until we burn out or collapse at home each night.

Changing our filter

Now changing beliefs and thoughts is not as easy as it sounds, but the good news is WE CAN.  The process of doing this takes conscious effort, self awareness and if you are lucky some feedback. .

So try the following studies on your self. For each situation that you observe your behaviour ask your self why and see what belief may be at the core. If you don’t like the belief then see what happens if you change the belief.


  • Choose the thoughts you carry around in your head about particular people.


  • Be conscious and catch your self thinking before you act.  Notice the patterns.


  • Turn the negative into a positive.


  • Ask yourself why you think what you think.


  • Practice using different filters.


As I said it take time and willingness to shift beliefs.  Start by raising your awareness and then see where you go.

Maybe even have a real conversation with some Gen Y'ers and get to understand their perspective from their point of view.

Let's go there...