If you are a young person, then I’m dead certain that in the last couple days you’ve gotten frustrated with at least one old person. They drive too slow, they take forever to do things, they’re scared to death of every new idea that comes across their desk, they wear their pants too high – the list goes on and on. It’s possible that you think the only value they could possibly add to any company is to retire and let someone better take their place. Someone like you, for example.
And I sympathize. Old people do wear their pants too high, and they sometimes still pay with checks at the grocery store like we’re all living in 1952. However, since modern medicine has basically assured that there will continue to be old people for the foreseeable future, here are a few things you need to know that will make working with them more enjoyable (and profitable) than you might have thought possible.
The Way Old People Like to Communicate is Quantifiably Better Than the Way You Like to Do It
Play on social media all you want, but nothing beats a referral from a real person. That’s why Facebook has promoted posts, because they know that real connections trump virtual connections 10 times out of 9. And while this is going to kill a tiny little piece of your heart, it is actually impossible to communicate a complex thought in fewer than 140 characters. Emoticons just don’t provide the breadth or depth of thought that complete sentences do. If you are uncomfortable with thinking and writing and speaking in long, detailed paragraphs – or worse, if you’re unable to do so – you are sabotaging your own ability to make deals, create partnerships, and otherwise move yourself forward. Practice it if you have to.
Advancement is a Process, Not a Right
You don’t get a promotion, the way that you get a present. You earn promotions. You earn raises. That’s what all those old people you know did. They worked, they struggled, they failed, they learned from those failures, and they slowly and steadily moved up. Try to remember that the next time you ask about getting a promotion before you’ve actually been offered the job. Oh, and if you ever wonder why all the old people you work with are making more money than you are, it’s because….wait for it….they’ve worked longer than you have!!!!
No One Group of People Has a Monopoly on Knowledge
Socrates said that the only thing he knew was that he didn’t know anything, and that was true – he didn’t know hemlock was poisonous, and that’s why he drank it and died. But I think a more accurate statement is that no one group of people knows everything. I deliver presentations for a living – 60 or so a year, 47 states, 2 countries and counting. I’ve spoken at tech conferences, agricultural expos, health care summits, women’s business symposia, and bankers associations. I’ve met rich people, poor people, hard-line Republicans, hard-line Democrats, city folk, country folk, capitalists, Libertarians, and every other group of people imaginable. And I can say with perfect confidence that if any one of those groups of people were suddenly endowed with the ability to impose their will on the rest of us, our world would immediately spiral toward its doom.
If our country were run entirely, at every level, by uncompromising Republicans or uncompromising Democrats, we probably wouldn’t even have a country anymore. If your marriage is dominated entirely, in every decision, by the wishes of only one of you, I think it’s safe to say that you have a horrifically unhealthy marriage. I hate to break this to you, but it turns out that other people occasionally have good ideas. The old people you work with have managed to build and sustain most of the companies that currently dominate the economic landscape. And in the cases where that’s not true – in the cases where Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs created billion-dollar empires before they were 30 – every single one of them did it in part by seeking and listening to the advice of a whole bunch of old people who knew a whole lot more about running a business than they did.
And there you are. I don’t expect you to forgive old people for driving slowly. It’s an unforgiveable offense, especially since they should be in a hurry since they don’t have as much time left. But I do expect you to recognize the contributions they can make to your personal and professional development. So go out right now, find an old person, and give them a hug.
Just keep your hands above the waist.
Jeff Havens is a keynote speaker and corporate trainer who addresses leadership, generational issues, and other areas of professional development through a unique blend of content and entertainment. He has been a regular guest on Fox Business News and featured in CNBC, BusinessWeek, and Bloomberg News.