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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psyumorist (tm)

APR 2011, No. I

Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!

Table of Contents: 

Shrink Rap:  Gentoring Parts I – IV

I.  “Gentoring” ™:  Building a New Mentoring Role for Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide or “Don’t Be Afraid to Pet the Dinosaur!”
II.  “Gentoring” ™:  Barriers to Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide – Traditionals and Boomer ‘Hot Buttons’”
III.  “Gentoring” ™:  Barriers to
Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide – Traditionals and Boomer ‘Hot Buttons’”
IV. 
Starting a “Gentoring” ™Program: Barriers to Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide – Gen Xers and Millennial “Hot Buttons”

Main Essay:  Starting a Mentoring-Gentoring ™ System: Transforming the Generational-Digital Divide into a Mutual Knowledge and Skill-Building Partnership (across the Age-Experience Spectrum)

Testimonials: 
Chesterfield County Government, VA 2011 Supervisory Leadership Conference, Cleveland Council of Black Nurses sponsored by Case Western Reserve
Phone Coaching-Consultation-Counseling with the Stress Doc ™ and Offerings:  Books, CDs, Training/Marketing Kit:  Email stressdoc@aol.com or go to www.stressdoc.com for more info.

Overview:

1. Shrink Rap:  Gentoring Parts I – IV:  This series begins with the invention of two new “Generational” concept – “Gentor” and “Gentoring” and a new “mentoring” role:  when a younger, tech/multimedia savvy employee helps an older employee, who may be uncomfortable with aspects of the digital revolution, upgrade his computer/communication knowledge and skills.  The remaining three essays cover psychological, communicational, status and economic-career barriers along with personal “hot buttons” that may exacerbate “Generational Digital Stress” (GDS) and present obstacles in forging a bridge across the generational-digital divide as well as a mentoring and gentoring partnership.


2. Main EssayStarting a Mentoring-Gentoring ™ System: Transforming the Generational-Digital Divide into a Mutual Knowledge and Skill-Building Partnership (across the Age-Experience Spectrum). 
The final segment of the Mentoring-Gentoring series will outline or illustrate tools and techniques for the younger generation guiding their anxious senior colleagues across the digital divide.  But you will also discover emotional and interpersonal structures and skills for helping the more senior generation "Mentor" their younger colleagues in areas such as institutional wisdom, career progress and office politics, as well as workplace values/norms.  With a reciprocal aid, “trial and error” pilot project along with a multi-faceted coaching process and some Stress Doc orchestration, Traditionals and Boomers will find it easier to harmonize generationally.  Mutual Mentoring-Gentoring will facilitate seniors accepting digital/social-media skill-building lessons from their juniors and may even help both parties better appreciate some of the core and idiosyncratic multi-generational values and ways.


Shrink Rap:

“Gentoring” ™:  Building a New Mentoring Role for Bridging the

Generational-Digital Divide or “Don’t Be Afraid to Pet the Dinosaur!” – Part I

This week I led a “Bridging Generational Communication” workshop with a major DC Government utility.  The groups of managers and employees (a mix of Boomers and Gen Xers) were asked to identify an area of breakdown in generational relations and then list some problem-solving recommendations.  One team focused on how many of the “older” field employees are techno-dinosaurs, at least with computers.  And now management wants to put laptops on the trucks so workers can immediately process field reports.  Stress and frustration levels are increasing!

I was an observer-participant during this group’s “taming the dinosaur” brainstorm.  (My newest mantra:  "Don't Be Afraid to Pet the Dinosaur.")  We came up with several recommendations, besides employees attending computer training, including:

1.  Have the Mountain Come to Mohammed.  Even mandating computer classes at HQ for field employees still might not be the most effective recruiting tool.  How about a mobile computer lab traveling to different work sites during the day?

2.  One-On-One Computer Coaching.  I personally shared my “computer virgin” status in the early ’90s, including struggling with my “Intimate FOE:  Fear of Exposure.”  The smartest thing I did was hire an out of work computer consultant, to sit with me, walk me through key operations, hold my hand as necessary, etc.  She came to the office about twice a week for four weeks.  I have no doubt that a faster learning curve was my ROI, not to mention the money saved on anticipated psychotherapy sessions.

3.  A Generational Bridge.  The group understood the value of personal coaching or mentoring relationship with a potentially anxious or resistant student.  One group member discussed the importance of having a trusted colleague as a coach.  Clearly, not wanting to feel embarrassed or humiliated was on folks’ minds.  Eventually, though, I saw a generational bridge just waiting to be put into operation:  how about pairing a Gen Xer or Gen Y/Millennial as a coach or mentor with a more senior and computer stressed colleague?  (Naturally, at home the kids can potentially coach the parents, though this might be tricky.)

And later that evening I had a semantic “aha”:  a new neologism and “job description” for our multigenerational workplace.  When a younger employee helps a computer or social media averse member of a more senior generation improve their techno-literacy and comfort, the former is playing the role of “Gentor.”  And the Gentor’s immediate function is to help bridge the digital divide.  And while Gentoring may invert authority-status roles and sound original, challenging and hip, it's in the footsteps of a time-honored tradition of socialization, knowledge sharing, identity formation and facilitating a vital rite of passage.

So get moving on that “Gentoring Program.”  The younger generation likes being consultants, and hopefully this relationship will also increase their sense of responsibility and commitment to their colleagues and to the company.  And our fortified seniors can give their younger co-workers some of the recognition and affirmation that provides motivational meaning.  Sounds like a win-win communicational-generational bridge that will help one and all…Practice Safe Stress!

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“Gentoring” ™:  Barriers to Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide – Traditionals and Boomer ‘Hot Buttons’” – Part II

In the aftermath of a recent “Bridging Generational Communication” workshop with a major DC utility, I coined two new concepts – “Gentor” ™ and “Gentoring” ™.  (My Webmaster frequently notes how Spell-check is not impressed by my wordsmith proclivities!)  And a showcase essay, “Gentoring” ™:  Building a New Mentoring Role for Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide or “Don’t Be Afraid to Pet the Dinosaur!,” suggested drawing on the digital generations’ computer and multimedia facility to coax and coach an older generation of employees, helping their seniors become more technologically friendly and fluent.  Clearly, expanding computer-Internet-multimedia competency is critical in today’s world.  (Email stressdoc@aol.com if you missed this essay, or check my “Google Blob”:

Click here: Stress Doc: Notes from a Motivational Psychohumorist ™: Speaking/Workshop Program: “Gentoring” ™: Building a New M

or

http://www-stressdoc-com.blogspot.com/2011/02/speakingworkshop-program-gentoring.html

Now let’s consider some of the possible psychological and interpersonal as well as organizational and socio-cultural (including current economic) dangers and opportunities in designing and implementing a Gentoring program.  First an examination of likely “hot button” issues for Traditionals (born before 1945) and Boomers (born 1945 to 1964) reluctant to cross the dinosaur-digital divide yet potentially being techno-coached by GenXers and Millennials (born after 1965).  Here are “Five of Ten Dino-Digital Defenses and Hot Buttons” – Part II:

1.  Initial Denial, Dismissive or Disruptive Reaction.  While Gentoring is not formal supervision, I’ve heard enough troubling firsthand accounts of tumultuous early stages of younger supervisor–older supervisee interactions to list this as an early red alert.  The more senior employee’s defensive-aggressive reaction – overt or covert – is basically this:  “What makes you think that (with your lack of experience, maturity, delusion of competence, etc.) you can teach me anything (of real relevance, meaning, consequence, etc.) or have any authority over me?”  This concern about perceived authority and control may surface even if the Gentoring program is voluntary.

2.  Authority-Status Shift.  The Traditionals and even many of the more senior Boomers grew up with or were socialized by a “Chain of Command” system involving a top-down authority structure and information flow typically based on work-role experience, seniority and status.  These folks tend to believe that it takes considerable time and front line experience and accomplishment (as well as knowing the system or political culture) to rise in the ranks, earn your stripes and achieve “managerial” status.  All this translates into an expectation that the “Four ‘R’s of Organizational Routine and Responsibility” – Rules, Roles, Rewards and Relationships – be clearly defined, predictable and “by the book” (if not a tad “black or white”).  A Gentoring process inverts and, for some, subverts the traditional or conventional authority-role-status relations.

3.  Family Dynamics.  For both parties across the generational-digital divide, workplace relationships can take on parent-child or older-younger sibling overtones, especially when we consider that for most employees more waking time is spent at work than at home.  This kind of role-relationship confusion, for example, a Traditional or Boomer responding to a younger person less as a colleague and more as a child or sibling, in the therapeutic realm is referred to as “transference.”  I call the conscious overgeneralization “overt transference” and the unconscious (including visceral, nonverbal) overgeneralization “covert transference.”  Conversely, a Gen Xer or Millennial may respond to an older colleague/supervisor as a parental figure or older sibling.  For example, if a Gen Y makes a mistake she may anticipate (without sufficient objective evidence) an impatient, angry reaction from her male Boomer colleague akin to the abrupt and critical temperament of her father.

Also important to note, a transference reaction is more likely to be triggered or exaggerated when a person is under intensely acute or chronic levels of stress.  Not only can the role-power inversion be unsettling but Traditionals and Boomers are being asked to jump into the deep end of the pool – increase their computer competency – an inherently stressful knowledge area for many of older generation folks.  Hmm...for future cogitation:  might we consider the younger generation as both technological swim coach and life guard?

4.  Jealousy, Displacement and Acting Out.  If jealous feelings surface there may be several sources fueling this smoldering or charged emotion.  Whether the senior party is an employee or a supervisor/manager, he or she may or may not be jealous of the status and skill level, role and power of his or her younger coach or Gentor.  However, for the more senior member this relationship may evoke feelings/memories of promotions or advancement opportunities missed or denied (whether fairly or not).  Gentoring may also stir up jealousy or resentment for past or present opportunities provided to former or current colleagues.

What this means is that a defensive, unaware or in denial senior learner may well:

a) directly displace his unresolved jealousy or hostile feelings onto the Gentor and/or
b) passive-aggressively act out or resist – from coming late to sessions to being stubbornly silent with, dismissive or negatively skeptical of – the Gentor and Gentoring program.

5.  “Inadequacy and the Intimate FOE”.  Not surprisingly, overt or passive-aggressive acting out of angst, hostility and rage are frequently smoke signals for core, smoldering emotions and threats:

a) feelings of shame or humiliation, alas, nurtured in childhood, often with a bullying parent or peer, or even in abusive relations as an adult and

b) having to confront your “Intimate FOE:  Fear of Exposure,” that is, our persona, mask or public cover will be blown and our shadow side – our lurking, self-perceived inadequacy or incompetency, both in and beyond the realm of technology – will be revealed for all to see.

Stay tuned for Dino-Digital Defenses 6-10.  Until then...Practice Safe Stress!

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker as well as "Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN programs for both government agencies and major corporations.  In addition, the "Doc" is a team building and organizational development consultant.  He is providing "Stress and Communication, as well as Managing Change, Leadership and Team Building" programs for the 1st Cavalry Division and 13th Expeditionary Support Command, Ft. Hood, Texas and for Army Community Services and Family Advocacy Programs at Ft. Meade, MD and Ft. Belvoir, VA as well as Andrews Air Force Base/Behavioral Medicine Services.  Mark has also had a rotation as Military & Family Life Consultant (MFLC) at Ft. Campbell, KY.  A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, The Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger.  See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-875-2567.

“Gentoring” ™:  Barriers to Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide – Traditionals and Boomer ‘Hot Buttons’” – Part III

In the aftermath of a recent “Bridging Generational Communication” workshop with a major DC utility, I coined two new concepts – “Gentor” ™ and “Gentoring” ™.  (My Webmaster frequently notes how Spell-check is not impressed by my wordsmith proclivities!)  And a showcase essay, “Gentoring” ™:  Building a New Mentoring Role for Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide or “Don’t Be Afraid to Pet the Dinosaur!,” suggested drawing on the digital generations’ computer and multimedia facility to coax and coach an older generation of employees, helping their seniors become more technologically friendly and fluent.  Clearly, expanding computer-Internet-multimedia competency is critical in today’s world.  (Email stressdoc@aol.com if you missed this essay, or check my “Google Blob”:

Now let’s consider some of the possible psychological and interpersonal as well as organizational and socio-cultural (including current economic) dangers and opportunities in designing and implementing a Gentoring program.  First an examination of likely “hot button” issues for Traditionals (born before 1945) and Boomers (born 1945 to 1964) reluctant to cross the “techno lizard-digital wizard” divide yet potentially being techno-coached by GenXers and Millennials (born after 1965).  The initial “Five of Ten Dino-Digital Defenses and Hot Buttons”:

1.  Initial Denial, Dismissive or Disruptive Reaction
2.  Authority-Status Shift
3.  Family Dynamics
4.  Jealousy, Displacement and Acting Out
5.  Inadequacy and the “Intimate FOE”

Now for the final “Five Dino-Digital Defenses and Hot Buttons”:

6.  Feeling Abandoned and Obsolete.  Gentoring processes are often needed, if not implemented, during times of major organizational-operational change.  And as I witnessed firsthand, just mixing generations, skillsets and cultures together during a period of uncertain job ebb and flow can produce a volatile reaction.  Let me provide a most dramatic example from the mid-90s.  During agency reorganization, a division of skilled crafts professionals were let go by one federal agency (located at a modern suburban campus) and were temporarily assigned to the dark and dank cavernous belly of the beast…the basement of the Department of Commerce.  At the same time, these professionals, mostly senior white males (Traditionals and Boomers), were being threatened on two other fronts: (a) the possible loss of jobs through computerization and privatization (that is, allowing private industry to bid for federal contracts), and (b) the recent influx of younger women and racial minorities into the shop (who were more savvy with computers than the old-timers).  Not surprisingly, during this vulnerable period, racial tension was rising and tempers were flaring.  Some folks started pulling up KKK websites; others began bringing Louis Farrakhan tapes to work.  And upper management didn't know how to handle this transitional tempest…So they employed the ostrich defense, burying their heads in the operational sands.

Stress Doc to the Rescue

It wasn't until an EEO analyst realized the government was hemorrhaging thousands and thousands (potentially hundreds of thousands) of dollars in formal grievance procedures that I was brought in to stop the bleeding and prevent full-scale escalation.  In this critical situation, one-on-one interviews were bypassed; however, we held several face-to-face meetings between labor and management.  We moved quickly into a full-day stress and anger management workshop with all parties.  The successful workshops which, not surprisingly, involved a series of culturally diverse, small group conflict resolution and collaboration problem solving exercises, were followed by a series of team building interventions.  (The grievance hemorrhaging ceased much to the government’s budgetary relief.  Ultimately, many of the older employees retired and accepted a moderate buyout.)  While this is an extreme case scenario, having younger folks Gentoring older individuals, especially during a tight economy and “lean and mean” job uncertainty or tightened career advancement, can surely contribute to an edgy learning dynamic.

7.  Differential Reactions and Usage among the Generations.  Overall, the Traditionals are the least comfortable and computer savvy across the digital divide.  These folks definitely need coaching, though significant numbers of older Boomers are not much more fluent.  (And even some GenXers compared to Milennial Mavens and the upcoming generation – Multi-MIDS ™:  Multi-Media Instantaneous Digitals – seem more techno-lizard than wizard.)  Actually, Boomers, in general, often view our ever-increasing dependence on computers and technology as a “mixed bag.”  I myself have referred to the “e” in e-mail as really standing for “escape.”  That is, people of all generations, but especially GenXers and Ys often actively avoid face-to-face (f2f) communication, especially during times of interpersonal conflict.  (And the dangers of attempting to clarify or work out misunderstandings and conflicts virtually are glaringly obvious.  Attitude and tone can jump off the screen without the benefit of contextual body language, facial gestures and live give-and-take.

Generational Communication Styles and Substance

Clearly, the various generations have differentially adopted and adapted to the new communication/multimedia options like Skype and Smart Phone Apps to Kindles and I-Pads.  Many in the earlier generations don’t understand the need for “Facebook Friends,” nor do they approve of endless tweeting and texting.  Speaking of communication preferences, my cousin is a Boomer whose job requires coordinating with vendors around the globe.  She finds that vendors of the younger generations basically will not answer their phones; they only respond to or send texts and emails.  Again, face-to-face or voice-to-voice is being replaced by a less personal, more virtual exchange; it’s a source of consternation for many, especially those endorsing “Practice Safe Text” or not enamored with “the art of the short but sweet tweet” and other forms of social media.

8.  Miscellaneous Hot Button Issues.  Four “hot button” issues have become everyday dividers:

a) Focused Attention.  Seniors questioning their juniors’ ability to sustain focused attention on a task or solving a problem; the boredom-frustration tolerance threshold seems to be progressively lowering; while this pattern may seem more pronounced for the more youthful employees, once you get plugged into “high speed” technology, waiting becomes more onerous for just about everyone,

b) Scanning vs. Understanding. Gen X and especially Gen Y/Millennials looking for quick (and Trads & Booms, and even GenXers might say) superficial responses or scanning at the expense of more thoughtful, careful and solid trial and error, understanding and/or deliberate problem solving, and

c) Entitlements vs. Earnings.  I recall a Boomer business owner articulating what many of his generation are saying about too many of today’s younger employees:  “They want their ‘rights’ without having to earn or shoulder ‘responsibilities’!”  Let’s try a historical context.  For example, a sense of “entitlement” can be particularly irksome for Boomers who helped pioneer the late-‘60s and ‘70s Women’s Movement.  When these groundbreakers perceive younger women taking for granted new found opportunities and especially if Xers and Millennials are unaware of or seem disinterested in the history of the social-economic-political struggles and hard-fought efforts for change by their “older sisters,” real cross-generation frustration can arise, and

d)  Trophy for Winners vs. Inclusion for All.  Another common dismissive refrain heard by senior folks is the Millennial notion that everyone gets a trophy just for participation.  The concept of merit seems to be getting short shrift.  I think the younger generations still has work to do in selling the “soft skills” and “it takes a village” value and meaning of “inclusion” as opposed to a competitive edged world of winners and losers, especially in a society that believes anything that hints of socialism is an anathema.

9.  “E & E” vs. “I & I”.  Many in the older generation believe one is productive by combining “Effectiveness” (Doing the right thing) and “Efficiency” (Doing the thing right), along with unselfish team effort.  For the latter, the prevailing mantra might be, “There’s No ‘I’ in Team.”  Despite their facility and infatuation with “smart technology,” numbers of colleagues see the younger side of the digital divide trumping the pair of “E”s with “I”s, that is, Gen X & Ys need to establish their own “idiosyncratic identity” (not a big surprise in the age of websites, blogging and Facebook).  Clearly, doing “your own thing” in a culture extolling “workplace norms” will trigger some tension in-house and across the generational-digital divide.  And if not feeling challenged or stimulated, young minds and legs (not to mention mouths) just might be off and running.  But don’t despair…the Stress Doc ™ is here with another one of his pithy maxims to improve productivity and morale.

When “I”s can “C”:  Individual and Interactive Synergy

While not getting into solutions at this point, let me just say that there are a pair of “I”s that have the potential to be pillars of a generational bridge:  “Individuality” and “Interactivity.”  As a brief explanation, for example, I’ve always had a somewhat unsettled feeling about the above truism, “There’s No ‘I’ in Team.”  I don’t know if it’s my own ego needs or an appreciation of the complexity of group process-motivation that keeps me from unconditionally embracing the oft-quoted saying.  I’ve amended the motivational mantra, thusly:  There May Be No “I” in Team”…but there Are Two “I”s in Winning!  And while there are several interpretive possibilities, let’s go with one that allows our “I”s to “C”:  highly motivated and morale-driven teams possess two winning “I”s that are a dynamic if not paradoxical blend of “Individual Creativityand “Interactive Community.”

Benefits of Blending Creativity and Community

If we can develop a team and workplace atmosphere that:

a) encourages individual and team exploration and innovation,

b) helps the larger community open up to new perspectives and meaningful innovation – through “flexibly focused” yet “out of the box” experimentation trials; remember, creative minds tend to gravitate toward the edge of chaos, then pull (or may need to be pulled) back,

c) challenges/supports the mind-opening maverick to engage with the “Tried (and) True (while also generating the) New” (to borrow a theme from my Metro DC-NASW Chapter’s recent Social Work conference), and

d) helps nurture a stronger sense of commitment by the “individual creator” to colleagues, collectives and the company – generating a mutual, optimally stimulating “interactive community” – then we are linking and playing generational win-win hands.

10.  Culture of Authority.  Popular psycho-cultural commentator, Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers: The Story of Success (2008), shares a vignette that has great significance for “hot button” barriers across the generational divide.  In the 1980s, the Columbian and Korean airlines were reporting a statistically aberrant (high) number of fatal air crashes.  Typically, there were two people in the cockpit, the senior pilot and the co-pilot, a junior officer.  As it turned out, who was flying the airplane proved extremely relevant to the forensic investigation.  Any ideas why?  Well, the older, senior officer was flying the plane and, no, the problem wasn’t the pilot being too casual.  The problem was cultural and status/age-related in nature.  The junior pilot was the navigator.  Upon first sensing trouble, he was not able to decisively-aggressively warn his older colleague that the latter was placing the craft in danger, about to make a fatal mistake, e.g., flying toward a cloud covered mountain.  According to the “black box” and control tower records, by the time the co-pilots warnings took on a sufficiently urgent tone, if they ever did, it was too late.  Ingrained in the junior pilots of these countries was a culture of subservience to authority and age, including indirectness and subtlety in all manner of verbal and nonverbal communication.  Sometimes, the junior navigator ignored the visual gauge evidence, assuming that the pilot (because of his seniority) must know what he’s doing.  It was not his role to contradict the authority.  Whatever the thought-behavior pattern, the result was junior pilot passivity and lack of decisive intervention in the face of critical danger.

A Down to Earth Example

Ironically, and fortunately, I experienced a less dramatic example of this cultural dynamic during training with soldiers at Ft. Hood.  A twenty-something male soldier shared having problems explaining to his senior officer why there were some operational delays in moving stock from a warehouse.  (And it was this sharing that prompted my telling the above Outliers vignette.)  At the end of the training, after most of the soldiers had filed out, the soldier came up to me and said, “Your story had a lot of meaning for me…I was born in Columbia!”

Gentoring and the PDI

So what are the implications of this critical-cultural story and Gentoring?  Clearly, when younger employees are partnering with more senior employees one must be aware of multicultural sensitivities, socialization sensibilities and emotionally charged values, especially related to the Triple “A” – Authority-Age-Aggression.  Actually, Gladwell mentions a research concept, the “Power Distance Index” (PDI) as underlying whether communication between generations of various cultures is assertive and direct or passive and indirect.  He poses three influential questions:

1) how much a particular culture values and respects authority?

2) how afraid are employees  to express disagreement with superiors?

3) do individuals/subordinates expect and accept that power is distributed unequally?  (For example, one might say that the once prevailing cultural PDI is certainly being challenged across the Middle East.)

What’s the PDI ambiance in your organization or shop?  It will definitely influence the quality of your generational bridge, and could well make or break a Gentoring Program!  Actually, a rigid or intimidating PDI ambiance can stifle open communication and effective coordination within and throughout all organizational levels.

Oh yes, one final footnote:  All Korean pilots eventually received Western style “assertiveness training” and in a triumph of “nurture over (cultural) nature” their safety records soon matched the industry standard.

Closing Summary

“Gentoring” ™:  Barriers to Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide – Traditionals and Boomer ‘Hot Buttons’” – Parts II and III have highlighted potential psychological and interpersonal as well as organizational and socio-cultural (including current economic) “hot button” issues for Traditionals (born before 1945) and Boomers (born 1945 to 1964) reluctant to partner with their younger, digital savvy colleagues.  Clearly, in today’s workplace and society overall, crossing the dinosaur-digital divide is mission and morale critical.  The “Ten Dino-Digital Defenses and Hot Buttons” when designing and implementing a Gentoring program are:

1.  Initial Denial, Dismissive or Disruptive Reaction
2.  Authority-Status Shift
3.  Family Dynamics
4.  Jealousy, Displacement and Acting Out
5.  Inadequacy and the “Intimate FOE”
6.  Feeling Abandoned and Obsolete
7.  Differential Reactions and Usage among the Generations
8.  Miscellaneous Hot Button Issues
9.  “E & E” vs. ” I & I”
10. Culture of Authority

And Part IV will examine “hot buttons” for Gen Xers and Millennials when having to Gentor the computer averse or stressed of the more senior generations.  Until then…Practice Safe Stress!

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Starting a “Gentoring” ™Program: Barriers to Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide – Gen Xers and Millennial “Hot Buttons” – Part IV

In the first two segments of my Gentoring essay, a) the concepts of Gentor ™ and Gentoring ™ were introduced (“Gentoring” ™: Building a New Mentoring Role for Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide or “Don’t Be Afraid to Pet the Dinosaur!”), and b) anticipated barriers or “hot buttons” (“Gentoring” ™: Barriers to Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide – Traditionals and Boomer “Hot Buttons”) were identified, that is, when a generationally older employee, more techno-lizard than wizard, accepts coaching-gentoring from a younger and more computer-multimedia savvy Gen X or Y colleague.

Gentoring: Why the Time is Ripe

Two contemporary factors heighten the importance of initiating a “Gentoring” program: 1) expanding computer-Internet-multimedia competency is critical in today’s 24/7, rapidly changing technology-driven world, and 2) in a time of organizational budget tightening and of a pervasive “do more with less” operational climate, drawing on and maximizing existing internal company and team resources is “bottom line” and mission critical. And a Gentoring program may well provide some “lagniappe” (a N’Awlins phrase for a little something extra, i.e., a “baker’s dozen”): creating collaborative partnerships to help bridge the generational-digital divide.

So let’s move to the junior members and examine the perceived, potential or actual barriers, the psychological and interpersonal as well as organizational and socio-cultural (including current economic) dangers and opportunities that may arise in a Gentoring Start-up. And in this new role and relationship, we’ll especially want to identify likely “hot buttons” of Gen Xers and, especially, Gen Ys (that is, those born after 1964 and 1980 respectively) when trying to coax and coach an older generation of employees across the dino-digital divide. Here are “Five Gen X and Gen Y Dino-Digital Defenses and Hot Buttons”:

1. Family Dynamics. Just as a Traditional or Boomer may relate to a significantly younger colleague, consciously or not, as a son or daughter, or a younger sibling, a member of the digital generation may displace some of their unresolved emotional baggage (hopefully not tonnage) onto their older “Gentee.”

An example was provided in my essay on “Traditionals and Boomer ‘Hot Buttons’”: if a Gen Y makes a mistake she may anticipate (without sufficient objective evidence) an impatient, angry reaction from her male Boomer colleague akin to the abrupt and critical temperament of her father.

Also important to note, this displacement or transference reaction is more likely to be triggered or exaggerated when a person is under intensely acute or chronic levels of stress.

2. Authority-Role-Status Shift. When a person relatively young in age subsumes an authority position he or she will oftentimes experience discomfort; this individual may even feel like an impostor. Or, this person may feel more confident in technical knowledge than in interpersonal skills. When the role involves coaching or “Gentoring” a senior colleague who may well be feeling: a) anxious about computer/communication technology, b) belittled by the age differential and perceived authority-status reversal and/or c) defensive and dismissive of anything meaningful to be gained from a learning process with an inexperienced or “immature” younger colleague. (Remember, that senior colleague may fear for his job security and see the Gentor as a definite threat in this “Brave New Techno-World.”)

”Whew! That Gen Xer or Y has entered the lion’s den. And I can quickly imagine two problematic extremes. The young trainer: a) is intimidated by the role and roar, as well as the defensive or aggressive body language, of the older lion and does not really engage, coax and coach and/or b) covers up feelings of insecurity with an analytical or hard-line, “show them who is boss” and “crack the whip” approach. This process likely yields a head and ego butting outcome, once again confirming the senior’s resistance to computer learning. Of course, another possibility is the idealistic yet naïve trainer who believes her energy and enthusiasm will win over the older colleague, who is reachable despite his or her lion or lizard skin. (Sometimes this happens; more often I’ve observed a disillusioned rescuer.)

3. Thin-Skinned and a Shortened Span. Another challenge for these youthful “Gentors” is the perception that this digital generation, especially the Millennials, are overly sensitive to criticism or overly dependent on the need for approval; they forever want to know “how am I doing?” Some attribute these “immature” qualities to a “friendship” and “collaborative”-based partnership with their parents and other significant adults, including teachers. (Then again, some would call this parent-authority dynamic as “coddling” and “hovering,” demonstrating insufficient boundary setting at the relationship core.

Is Virtuality Reality?

Of course, related to the need for continuous feedback, if not reassurance, is the fact this digital generation has grown up with instantaneous feedback at the push of a button. And while this provides many advantages regarding multiple and simultaneous data processing it also seems to cultivate some problems such as impatience, low frustration tolerance, and at times a limited ability to concentrate and sustain focus. This multimedia generation has been accused of scanning more than understanding. And naturally a Gentoring relationship will put a thin skin and a short attention span to the test.

Is Reality Virtuality?

However, before moving on, it’s worth noting that the younger generation’s (or at least a large segment’s) ability to interminably play video games seems to put any blanket assumptions about scanning and spanning into question. Deserving further consideration is whether span of attention, information processing and understanding is impacted when the digital-ager is placed in a passive or traditional learning situation compared to one that is interactive and provides some “game control” of the engagement process.

4. Rights and Responsibilities, Structure and Freedom. An oft heard cry is that today’s youth feel entitled to their “rights” without earning or shouldering “responsibilities.” And certainly this younger generation cannot step back into the “Sixties” with all of its trailblazing trials and triumphs along with its escapist excesses and errors. But perhaps the issue is not so black and white. Gen Xers and Ys often do want structure regarding what they are supposed to do and feedback of their progress, with timely rewards, or at least the possibility of “working smarter not harder.” Maybe they are not so independent. Then again, in an age that is so networked and multi-connected, perhaps the goal needs to be more interdependence than being the “Lone Ranger or Rangerette.” Yet within the provided structure, this younger generation often wants the freedom to figure out how they will reach the expected outcome. They want to put their own signature on the project or product.

Of course, this need for feedback and individual expression may generate some pushback from an organization run by workplace norms or from colleagues who’ve adapted to “No news is good news” and who espouse the motivational mantra, There’s no “I” in team.

When “I”s Must “C”: The Necessity for Individual and Interactive Vision

As previously cited, I don’t know if it’s my own ego needs or an appreciation of the complexity of group process-motivation that keeps me from unconditionally embracing the above oft-quoted saying. I’ve amended the motivational mantra, thusly: There May Be No “I” in Team”…but there Are Two “I”s in Winning! And while there are several interpretive possibilities, let’s go with a “letteral” one – the winning “I”s stand for “Interactivity” and “Individuality.” And these “I”s definitely “C”: Highly motivated and morale-driven teams are a dynamic if not paradoxical blend of “Individual Creativityand “Interactive Community.” So the visionary challenge for today’s workplace, not just for launching a Gentoring program, is getting all generations to buy-in to the need for some idiosyncratic expression and design within an overriding mission-based, interdependent and team-oriented community. And if the digitals and dinos don’t quite speak the same language, how will “we all just get along?”

Can You Have Idiosyncrasy and Inclusion?

Also interesting is that while this younger contingent wants room for individual expression and idiosyncrasy, they also eschew more than previous generations a “win-lose” sense of competition. Their modus operandi seems to value trying and embracing recognition if not rewards for all. And while Millennials especially have been ridiculed for all this “we are the world” fuzziness, their sense of inclusion has also fostered greater multicultural acceptance and understanding than previous generations.

5. Communication across the Generational Divide. On one side of the digital divide is a generation that expects to be heard and wants instant feedback; on the other are folks socialized on the benefits of no news, top down communication and the Chain of Command. And we also have the potential for errors of omission and commission. Regarding the former, what happens when today’s younger generation who often “interpret silence as criticism” interact with more senior, privacy conscious, “no news is good news” colleagues…You think there’s potential for “message sent not being the message received?” Duh!!!

Corrupting the Language vs. Cracking the Code

As for the commission conundrum, are you now required to Tweet, blog, or use a mobile device with apps to do your job? Senior eyes increasingly glaze over as the younger workforce texts requests from the home office using acronyms and abbreviations that would have given even a late 20th century high school English teacher Anaphylactic shock? Conversely, how frustrating is it to be the fresh-out-of-college worker trying to crack the “inside code” of the experienced team members? And all too often being hurtled or beamed across the divide are spear-or laser-like antagonisms, such as, “This is how we've always done it, “Wake up and smell the…norms, culture, politics, etc.,” “Stop being so resistant,” or "They just don't get it”?

Closing Summary

This essay has outlined “Five Gen X and Gen Y Dino-Digital Defenses and Hot Buttons”:

1. Family Dynamics
2. Authority-Role-Status Shift

3. Thin-Skinned and a Shortened Span
4. Rights and Responsibilities, Structure and Freedom

5. Communication across the Generational Divide

Gentoring Dangers and Opportunities

Certainly these are real challenges to a Gentoring, trial and error start-up. But we don’t wish to end on a despairing note; there’s a potential pass in the generational-digital impasse. As this series has documented, when the younger generation ("Internet Native" to quote NY Times blogger, Nick Bilton) helps a computer or social media averse member of an earlier generation ("Internet Immigrant") improve their techno-literacy and comfort-level, the former is playing the role of “Gentor.” (Naturally, it’s a play on “mentor.”). And this digital generation likes being consultants. Hopefully, this collaborative relationship will also increase Gen Xers’ and Millennials’ sense of responsibility and commitment to their colleagues and to the company. And while senior workers can give their younger co-workers some of the recognition and affirmation that provides motivational meaning, productive cross-fertilization requires mutual learning and sharing; especially by loosening role-status barriers while building two-way communicational bridges.

Final Preview

So the final segment will illustrate tools and techniques for the younger generation guiding their anxious seniors across the digital divide. But you will also discover emotional and interpersonal skills for helping the more senior generation "Mentor" their younger colleagues in areas such as institutional wisdom, career progress and office politics, as well as workplace values/norms. With a mutual coaching process and some Stress Doc orchestration, Traditionals and Boomers will find it easier to harmonize generationally, to accept digital/social-media skill-building lessons from their juniors and may even better appreciate some of the idiosyncratic Gen X and Gen Y values and ways.

So stay tuned for, “Starting a Mentoring-Gentoring ™ System: Transforming the Generational-Digital Divide into a Mutual Knowledge and Skill-Building Partnership (across the Age-Experience Spectrum).” Until then…Practice Safe Stress!

Main Essay:

Starting a Mentoring-Gentoring ™ System: Transforming the Generational-Digital Divide into a Mutual Knowledge and Skill-Building Partnership (across the Age-Experience Spectrum) – Part I

Quote from Alvin Tofler, renowned late 20th c. author and Futurist, with small addendum from Mark Gorkin:  The illiterate of the 20th c. will not be those who cannot read or write [nor those who are more technologically slow than savvy] but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn!

The final segment of the Mentoring-Gentoring series will outline or illustrate tools and techniques for the younger generation guiding their anxious senior colleagues across the digital divide.  But you will also discover emotional and interpersonal structures and skills for helping the more senior generation "Mentor" their younger colleagues in areas such as institutional wisdom, career progress and office politics, as well as workplace values/norms.  With a reciprocal aid, “trial and error” pilot project along with a multi-faceted coaching process and some Stress Doc orchestration, Traditionals and Boomers will find it easier to harmonize generationally.  Mutual Mentoring-Gentoring will facilitate seniors accepting digital/social-media skill-building lessons from their juniors and may even help both parties better appreciate some of the core and idiosyncratic multi-generational values and ways.

Basic Steps and Structures, Skills and Strategies for Transforming the Generational-Digital Divide into a Mutual Knowledge and Skill-Building Partnership:

1.  Establish a Pilot Project.  The best way to put a new workplace concept into action is with a time-structured, well supervised pilot project.  For example, if possible, begin with twenty volunteers – ten Traditionals and Boomers (to be called Matures) and ten Gen Xers and Millenials (the Mods).  Articulate the goal of Mentoring and Gentoring:  to transform the generational-digital divide into a mutual knowledge and skill-building partnership.  The Matures’ primary focus is to coach in the areas of workplace norms, office politics and institutional wisdom.  The Mods’ primary focus is guiding their less techno-savvy senior colleagues into the Digital Promised Land.  The content knowledge and communicational skills gained in this start-up also have a secondary function:  to foster greater understanding and appreciation of values and attitudes, overall strengths and vulnerabilities of and between the two generational subgroups.

2.  Recognize the Multigenerational Workplace.  The breakdown of the workplace numbers on the four generations is as follows (National Association of Social Work, NASWNews, Feb 2011

Traditionals (born before 1945) – 12.5 million or 8%
Boomers (born between 1945-1964) – 66 million or 44%
Gen Xers (born between 1965-1980) – 54 million or 33%
Millennials (born between 1981-1995) – 24 million or 15%

A broad understanding of each of the generations will be facilitated by examining four distinguishing factors and characteristics that contribute to strengths and vulnerabilities, as well as biases, predilections and expectations:  a) Historical Markers, b) Assets and Values, c) Liabilities and Challenges and d) Motivational Meaning.  Let’s use the “Baby Boomer” generation as an example:

v  Characteristics of the Generations:  Baby Boomers (born 1945 – 1964)

?  Historical Markers:  Nuclear Testing,’60s lifestyle, Vietnam, Civil Rights/Black Power, higher education, assassinations, suburbia, “Me” Generation, Reagonomics,

?  Assets/Values: (public) service/relationship-oriented, work comes first, “go extra mile,” team work critical to success

?  Liabilities/Challenges:  not “budget minded,” mixed feelings about conflict, process before results, sensitive to feedback, judgmental, self-centered

?  Motivational Meaning:  gradual rise to role/power, technology is mixed bag, “whatever it takes,” value “face time” & collaboration with managers, celebrate individual and team

Group discussion will allow participants to flesh out – add to, question, concur with and debate, etc. – the various listings.  Personal example provided of impact of generational differences in healthcare and of generational exceptionalism or deviation from the norm.

3.  Identify Sources of Generational Diversity Stress (GDS), “Hot Buttons” and Barriers to Transforming the Generational-Digital Divide.  An amalgam of personal and professional, interpersonal and organizational, as well as cultural and economic factors and forces contribute to or exacerbate the generational-digital divide and Generational Digital Stress (GDS).  My series on “’Gentoring’:  Barriers to Bridging the Generational-Digital Divide – Traditionals and Boomer ‘Hot Buttons’ (Part II & III) and Gen Xers and Millennial ‘Hot Buttons’” (Part IV; email stressdoc@aol.com if you’ve missed any parts of the series) identifies the “geno-dino-digital barriers” when designing and implementing a Mentoring-Gentoring program.  “Ten Traditionals and Boomer Dino-Digital Defenses and Hot Buttons”:

1.  Initial Denial, Dismissive or Disruptive Reaction
2.  Authority-Status Shift
3.  Family Dynamics
4.  Jealousy, Displacement and Acting Out
5.  Inadequacy and the “Intimate FOE”
6.  Feeling Abandoned and Obsolete
7.  Differential Reactions and Communication Usage among the Generations
8.  Miscellaneous Hot Button Issues
9.  “E & E” vs. ” I & I”
10. Culture of Authority


and

 “Five Gen X and Gen Y Dino-Digital Defenses and Hot Buttons”:

1.  Family Dynamics
2.  Authority-Role-Status Shift

3.  Thin-Skinned and a Shortened Span
4.  Rights and Responsibilities, Structure and Freedom

5.  Communication across the Generational Divide

While psychological and communicational factors have significant bearing, the organizational climate and other career and economic/contextual dynamics also shape the breadth and depth of the divide, including rapid or uncertain organizational change, budget cuts, mergers and reorganizational pressures, e.g., significant loss (or gain) of personnel and/or positions, doing “more with less” exhaustion and frustration, overall levels of stress and conflict, job-career competition, etc.

An Early Upheaval Stirred by Reorg and Cultural-Generational Digital Stress

Here’s a most dramatic, early example of a collision between GDS and reorganizational stress (as well as cultural diversity) that will be shared with and dissected by participants.  In the mid-90s, a division of skilled crafts professionals – cartographers – were let go by one federal agency, part of a modern suburban campus, and were temporarily assigned to the dark cavernous belly of the beast…the basement of the Department of Commerce.  At the same time, these professionals, mostly senior and white male, were being threatened on two other fronts: (a) the possible loss of jobs through computerization and privatization (that is, allowing private industry to bid for federal contracts), and (b) the recent influx of women and racial minorities into the shop (who were more savvy with computers than the old-timers.  Computer graphics were revolutionizing the mapmaking field and the senior’s pen in hand artistry seemed to going the way of the dodo bird).  Not surprisingly, during this vulnerable period, racial tension was rising and tempers were flaring.  Some folks started pulling up KKK websites; other began bringing Louis Farrakhan tapes to work.  And upper management didn't know how to handle this transitional tempest…So they employed the ostrich defense, burying their heads in the operational sands.

It wasn't until an EEO analyst realized the government was hemorrhaging thousands and thousands (potentially hundreds of thousands) of dollars in formal grievance procedures that I was brought in to stop the bleeding and prevent full-scale escalation.  (In this critical situation, one-on-one interviews were bypassed; though we held several face-to-face meetings between labor and management.  We moved quickly into a full-day stress and anger management workshop with all parties.  Two one-day stress and team building workshops were held, thirty people in each program.  Management and labor leaders attended both sessions.  The drawing exercise and role-plays gave both the senior and junior folks a chance to talk about and literally act out their anger and fears.  There was a new sense of begrudging understanding, if not harmony, amongst the various segments.  And, almost defying credulity, all the grievance proceedings stopped.  After the workshops came a series of team building interventions.

Next step involved my meeting with the various work teams.   Initially, the intervention was having positive impact on division morale and team coordination.  However, a few weeks in, there was a troubling sign.  In a total staff meeting, management seemed uncomfortable allowing people to emote during a discussion about privatization.  Understandably, many of the skilled mapmakers were worried about future contracts and job stability.  The division director, alas, seemed to need an infusion of "emotional intelligence."  The final straw occurred when, a short time later, a female employee accused one of the supervisors of harassing behavior.  When management did not take the accusation seriously, the union was enraged.  (The director was a close friend of the accused.)  Not surprisingly, the team building process was interrupted and adversarial actions once again began replacing union-management collaboration.

In disgust, the female manager who initially had advocated for bringing in an outside stress and violence prevention consultant, transferred out of this once again sinking ship.  The irony, of course, is that this dysfunctional turn of events would in the long run likely contribute to the demise of this division.  Was there a higher level power source pulling the strings or, at least, not too unhappy with this cycle of regression and possible extinction?  Who knows…I no longer was a player on the scene.

4.  Facilitate a More Intimate Understanding of Personal/Professional Stressors, Losses and Hot Buttons.  Building on the “Sources of Generational Diversity Stress” (section #3), this program segment helps all parties both universalize and personalize the impact of the technological revolution across the generations, how different individuals and groups quickly or slowly adapt to change, the need for slow adapters to grieve the sense of loss of control of their work environment and career path.  At the same time, younger employees will also talk about their fears and frustrations trying to break in and fit in to their new work environments.

A variety of concepts and exercises will enable participants to:

1) “Three ‘B’ Stress Barometer Exercise” – identify “Brain, Body and Behavior” stress smoke signals; this group exercise quickly breaks the ice and helps participants begin to experience commonality and have some mutual empathy

2) Vital Lesson the Four “R”s:  If no matter what you do or how hard you try, Results, Rewards, Recognition and Relief are not forthcoming and you can't say “No” or won't “let go”, that is, you can't step back and get a new perspective; there’s only one right person, position, or possible outcome because in your mind you've invested so much time, money, and ego…trouble awaits. The groundwork is being laid for apathy, callousness, and despair!

3) Grieving and “The Six ‘F’s for Surviving and Mastering Loss and Change” During a program dealing with transitional or reorg stress, observing that major reorganization often feels like a death, or that something of real meaning appears to be dying – a sense of trust, security, loyalty, being valued, etc. – a wave of nodding heads invariably circles the room.  However, when people are fully grieving…there is hope:

Whether the loss is a key person, a desired position or a powerful illusion, each deserves the respect of a mourning.  The pit in the stomach, the clenched fists and quivering jaw, the anguished sobs prove catalytic in time.  In mystical fashion, like spring upon winter, the seeds of dissolution bear fruitful renewal. 

To turn potential transition danger into personal and professional opportunity, engage with “The Stress Doc’s Six ‘F’s for Surviving and Mastering Loss and Change”:

(1) Loss of the Familiar. Grapple with the anxiety, rage, hopelessness or sadness in letting go of the familiar role or predictable past.  The big question:  Who am I?  This role or these relationships, this skillset, etc., has been such a big part of my identity.  I recall a management trainee’s lament about her government agency’s downsizing:  “I once had a career path…then this boulder fell from the sky and crushed it!”  Still, sometimes your former niche of success now has you mostly stuck in the ditch of excess and regress.  There's a critical – danger and opportunity – crossroad ahead,

(2) Uncertain Future. Clearly the horizon appears cloudy and threatening, lacking direction and clarity.  What will be expected of me?  Who will I now have to report to or work with?  Beware letting present anxieties cloud your critical faculties:  just because your past or traditional relations, roles and responsibilities may be changing doesn't mean you can't transfer personal and professional experience and skills into new challenging arenas, affiliations or ambitions,

(3) Loss of Face. Some loss of self-esteem and self-worth is all too common, especially when our life puzzle has been broken up other than by one's own hand.  Would this scenario be unsettling:  "Two months ago you gave our department a great performance review?  Now you're cutting our budget in a major way, and no one knows if there will be layoffs."  Shame and guilt, rage and diminished confidence are frequent early traveling partners on an uncertain and profound transitional journey,

(4) Regain Focus. Major change can be scary.  Underlying feelings may include rage, helplessness, hopelessness and humiliation.  Sometimes we need a little rage to break through chains of mind-body-behavior paralysis.  Of course, rage needs to be tempered.  Remember, more people shoot themselves in the foot than go postal!  (And, let me say, as a former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant with the US Postal Service, I know “Going Postal.”)  Often with professional support, learn to temper your rage by courageously embracing those underlying vulnerable emotions; this leads to a productive, yin-yang state of “focused anger”:   "I may not like the cards that have been dealt, but how do I make the best of my reality right now."  And you'll likely start hatching a new perspective with, if not crystal clear targets, then an intuitive, crystal ball-like enlightenment.  Suddenly this Stress Doc mantra starts resonating:  "I don't know where I'm going...I just think I know how to get there!"

(5) Seek Feedback. You have to work hard to find someone who can provide clear, clean, and honest feedback.  Many don't really have a clue how to give it.  Or people are fearful you won't know how to handle it.  Still, we all benefit from the Stress Doc’s version of TLC:  "Tender Loving Criticism" and "Tough Loving Care."  You need a “stress buddy” to help sort out the wheat from the chaff.  Before you blow up in a supervisor’s office check in with your TLC partner and ask, “Am I seeing this situation objectively or not?  What’s my part in this problem?”  In times of rapid or daunting change, trustworthy feedback helps us remember who we are; that our basic, core self remains intact despite being shaken by unsettling forces or errors. 

(6) Have Faith. Having the courage to grapple with the aforementioned "F"s now yields strength to understand what in your present life rests in your control and what lies beyond.  Of course, there’s always an unpredictable element or moment in major transition.  Life is not a straight line progression.  However, by doing your “head work, heart work and homework” you are in a much stronger personal and professional position.  You are building cognitive and emotional muscles; you can have faith in a growing ability to handle whatever will be thrown at you.  Going through this process means you are evolving the psychological capacity for dealing with ambiguous and unpredictable twists and turns on life’s journey.  Remember…

For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes
One must know the pain
To transform the fire to burning desire!

And how do you transform mystical or mythical maturation into everyday evolution?  Consider the prescient words of the great scientific/polio pioneer, Dr. Jonas Salk:  Evolution is about getting one more time than you fall down; being courageous one more time than you are fearful; and trusting just one more time than you are anxious.

And sometimes the most efficient and effective way of building trust is by genuinely engaging and resolving conflict through courageous questions, empathic assertion and humor.

5.  Engage in “You Can’t Make Me” Exercise or Disarm Power Struggles While Building Trust.  This exercise, along with its conceptual foundation, helps participants understand why we tend to grab for the dysfunctional power struggle bait.  Surely, during a Mentoring-Gentoring process there’s potential for an overt or covert exchange of, “You Can’t Make Me” vs. “Oh Yes I Can.”  (While the actual verbiage may be more sophisticated, the underlying intent often reveals the primitive power play.)  The exercise creates an atmosphere of competitive aggression within a fairly absurd interpersonal context.  The initial response is an upsurge of energy, animated role play and mood-uplifting laughter.  (I have literally observed this at least a thousand times.)  Ultimately, the exercise is designed for illustrating a variety of conflict resolution techniques including, a) the Four “P”s of empathic connection, that is, connecting to a person’s “pain and passion, purpose and power” (or lack of power), b) asking “good questions” to reduce quickly status differences and building trust c) appreciating the difference between assertive “I” and blaming “You” messages in softening or exacerbating defensiveness, and d) the ability to be both a vital and vulnerable communicator.

Power Struggle Resolution Tools and Techniques

Consider this scenario:  a somewhat surly techno-averse senior challenges a computer savvy junior (literally or in so many words) with, “You can't make me!”  And the junior takes the bait:  “Oh, yes I can!”  Unless it is a truly critical situation, fighting fire with fire is frequently not the best way to deescalate tensions and develop partners.  Here are “Three Disarming Power Struggle Steps and Strategies”:

1)  Be Vital and Vulnerable.  Try this response:  “I don't know if I can make you or I can't make you.  That’s not where I'm coming from.”  [You're resisting the provocative bait.  Not immediately playing the authority trump card, you are confidently tentative without giving up your power potential.],

2) Be Humble and Open.  “If we have a problem – if I’m bugging you or our situation is a pain – can we talk about it?”  [Can we assume that if there is a serious power struggle someone is pained or upset about something?  I think so.  Also, I believe the fastest way of reducing status differences between antagonists while generating adult-to-adult dialogue is by “asking a good question,” as illustrated above.  For me, there are two essential pillars of “a good question”:  a) Be Humble – the question says, “I don't have all the answers,” and b) Be Open – the question invites the other party to share his or her point of view, with the implicit message, “Maybe I can learn something new.”]

Also, you are being courageous:  inviting criticism often elicits real and raw feedback; you can handle another’s anger.  And, when others perceive you as handling criticism without becoming defensive or quickly having to prove who’s right or wrong, you help build trust, which is invaluable.  (As mentioned before, I accept anger and even some attitude, but I don't tolerate abuse.)

3) Win/Win Posture and “Drop the Rope.”  The last part of your power struggle-reducing intervention:  “I need your contribution to meet our goals.  I believe I'm in a position to help you.  For us to succeed, we have to be pulling together, not be pulling apart.”  [I use the image and metaphor of learning to “Drop the Rope” when people are caught up in a “tug of words.”  Under duress, this option neither pulls harder nor vacates the arena of conflict.  Dropping the rope is not necessarily an admission of fear or a sign of resignation.  Dropping the rope basically says, “Pulling back and forth, trying to overpower, outsmart or out shout one another isn't working for me.  Can we figure out another way of approaching the problem?”  So, in addition to “letting go,” you also need to “step up to the plate,” that is, to be present and invite problem solving discussion.  These are vital steps in both trust and partnership building.]

6. Understand Personal Conflict Resolution Mode with Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Style Inventory (TKCSI).  The TKCSI 2x2 matrix is based on two conflict problem-solving variables:

a) Assertiveness Mode – when a person’s is primarily motivated by his or her needs and concerns
b) Cooperativeness Mode – when a person is motivated by the other’s needs or concerns
A capacity for being “High” or “Low” on each variable yields “Five Conflict Resolution Styles”:
(1) Competition – High Assertiveness & Low Cooperativeness
(2) Avoidance – Low Assertiveness & Low Cooperativeness
(3) Accommodation – High Cooperativeness & Low Assertiveness
(4) Collaboration – High Cooperativeness & High Assertiveness
(5) Compromise – Medium Cooperativeness & Assertiveness

Depending on the problem solving context, with regard to resolving conflict, each style has both positive and negative characteristics.  During the training, the model as a whole and the distinct styles will be outlined, especially the “Collaborative” style.  Through group discussion these characteristics will be fleshed out.  In small groups (a mixture of Matures and Mods), members will identify their style, and its pros and cons.  Participants will also discuss what their conflict style’s needs or wants are when problem solving with others to form a successful “high task” and “high touch” partnership.  Finally, the groups will identify a source of “communication breakdown” across the generational-digital divide and will identify how each of the five styles might attempt to build a problem-solving and relationship-building bridge.  Again, primary emphasis will be placed on the “Collaborative” resolution.

7.  Get Personal and Playful with “They Just Don’t Get It” Exercise.  Now the divided parties are almost ready to place themselves in the others shoes.  But first the Matures and the Mods must describe each others’ bunions, calluses and ingrown toenails, not to mention the smelly feet.  Basically the Matures itemize the actions, attitudes, values, beliefs, communication styles, etc, of the Mods that they don’t like, find objectionable or they disagree with.  And the Mods do the same for the Matures.  The groups are encouraged to provide both realistic and out-rage-ous descriptions and characterizations.  My rationale is simple:  once groups are allowed to express their frustration with/for “the other” generation in a basically safe setting and in a constructive manner, spiced with some edgy but not cutting humor, without eliciting mean-spirited retaliation or defensiveness, the groundwork is being laid for a) reducing antagonism, b) opening a door to understanding, and c) real acknowledgement if not actual agreement.  And with some emotional-communicational coaching, active listening, meaningful questioning, empathic consideration, genuine dialogue and creative collaboration now become possible.

Closing Summary

Part I of “Transforming the Generational-Digital Divide into a Mutual Knowledge and Skill-Building Partnership (across the Age-Experience Spectrum)” illustrates tools and techniques for helping the younger generation guide or “gentor” their anxious senior colleagues across the digital divide while also having the older generation mentor their juniors in career survival/advancement, including office politics, workplace norms, institutional history/wisdom, etc. 

Basic Steps and Structures, Skills and Strategies for Transforming the Generational-Digital Divide into a Mutual Knowledge and Skill-Building Partnership:

1. Establish a Pilot Project.
2. Recognize the Multigenerational Workplace.
3. Identify Sources of Generational Diversity Stress (GDS), “Hot Buttons” and Barriers to Transforming the Generational-Digital Divide.

4. Facilitate a More Intimate Understanding of Personal/Professional Stressors, Losses and Hot Buttons.
5. Engage in “You Can’t Make Me” Exercise or Disarm Power Struggles While Building Trust.

6. Understand Personal Conflict Resolution Mode with Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Style Inventory
7. Get Personal and Playful with “They Just Don’t Get It” Exercise.

The next segment of the training program focuses on skills and strategies, tools and techniques to enable the Matures and Mods to share their respective strengths and to Mentor and Gentor their counterparts’ vulnerabilities.

Testimonials:


Chesterfield County Government, VA 2011 Supervisory Leadership Conference
[One-day "The Responsible, Resilient & Risk-Taking Leader: Turning on Your 'Passion Power' and Inspiring TLCs – 'Trust, Laughter and Creative Collaboration,'" for 60+ Supervisors and Managers]

April 22, 2011

Hi Mark,

Thanks again for the outstanding workshop you facilitated at our recent Supervisory Leadership Conference.  You did a great job of engaging our supervisors and providing them with knowledge they can immediately apply back in the workplace.  It was great to see all of the interaction between supervisors from many different parts of our organization.  Also, you could tell that the participants were having great fun as they gained new insights into effective leadership.  As you can see from the attached summary evaluation data, the conference was a huge success.  I will mail you the hand-written evaluation comments shortly.  Look forward to staying in touch.  Jim


Jim Einhaus
Learning Consultant
Chesterfield County
Center for Organizational Excellence
804-706-2119
einhausj@chesterfield.gov
-----------------------------

2011 Supervisory Conference Evaluation Results

Number of Conference Participants - 62
Number of evaluations received - 58
Evaluation completion rate - 94%

Strongly Disagree   Disagree   Neutral   Agree   Strongly Agree   N/A
1 2 3 4 5

Conference Content
1. The workshop provided useful information. 4.67
2. The activities and exercises were helpful in applying the workshop content.  4.64
3. The instructor delivered the workshop effectively.  4.74
4. The knowledge I gained in the sessions will help me do my job better.  4.59

Conference Materials
5. The workshop handout for participants was both clear and understandable.  4.52
6. The conference brochure was designed well and contained all necessary
information.  4.57
7. The registration process was clear and easy to follow. 4.59

Overall Conference Rating
10. Overall, I would recommend this conference to others.   4.64
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April 12, 2011

Hi Mark

Thanks for your call yesterday I had been meaning to touch base with you and tell you how successful the session was last week.

We really appreciate your work with our leaders on becoming a resilient leader. The session was engaging, provoking and fun. We’re excited about some of the ideas that were generated. Thanks again for your wonderful delivery. I look forward to working with you again soon.

Cindy

Cindy Taylor, IPMA-HR-CP
Learning Consultant
Chesterfield County
Center for Organizational Excellence
9800  Government Center Parkway, 3rd floor
Chesterfield, VA 23832

(
   (804) 748-1552
fax: (804) 768-7410

?
taylorc@chesterfield.gov
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Cleveland Council of Black Nurses sponsored by Case Western Reserve/Skills and Simulation Center [2-hr "Practice Safe Stress and Team Building through Humor" Program]

April 4, 2011

Dear Mark,
 
Thank you so much for the wonderful workshop that you presented for the Cleveland Council of Black Nurses.  As President, I truly appreciated your humorous, but principled approach to "Team Building".  You worked miracles & brought about an honesty that I did not think was possible.
 
Again, thank you & I would certainly recommend your workshops to all in the health care fields.  The program that you presented was truly "Tailor Made" for us.
 
Barbara Rogers, RNMSN
President

216 921-3204
sisbarbltc@aol.com
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Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker as well as "Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN programs for both government agencies and major corporations.  In addition, the "Doc" is a team building and organizational development consultant.  He is providing "Stress and Communication, as well as Managing Change, Leadership and Team Building" programs for the 1st Cavalry Division and 13th Expeditionary Support Command, Ft. Hood, Texas and for Army Community Services and Family Advocacy Programs at Ft. Meade, MD and Ft. Belvoir, VA as well as Andrews Air Force Base/Behavioral Medicine Services.  Mark has also had a rotation as Military & Family Life Consultant (MFLC) at Ft. Campbell, KY.  A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service, The Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger.  See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-875-2567.