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Merge Gupta-Sunderji is a speaker and author who has more than 17 years of experience as a front-line leader in Corporate Canada.
Merge Gupta-Sunderji is a speaker and author who has more than 17 years of experience as a front-line leader in Corporate Canada.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Want respect, millennials? Here’s how to earn it Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

If you’re a millennial, then you’ve probably been accused (either to your face or behind your back) of being impatient and self-absorbed with an unreasonable sense of entitlement. One of the challenges of youth is that you’re not always taken seriously. And it becomes an even greater issue if you find yourself not just working with, but also supervising staff older than you.

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Instead of whining about not getting the respect you deserve, how about some honest self-reflection on what you’ve done to earn it? Here are six questions to ask yourself if you’re truly seeking to understand why you’re not earning the respect and influence you feel you should get.

1. Have I respected their experience?

The traditionalists, baby boomers and Generation-Xers have been there longer than you have, and so they know a thing or two. Yes, you’re confident, techno-savvy and quick on your feet, but simply by virtue of their tenure in the world of work, they understand far more about how people and processes work than you do. And that information can be valuable to your success.

Ask lots of questions and listen carefully to the answers. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that asking questions accentuates your youth and is a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary; it tells others that you view them as capable resources, and it builds stronger relationships.

2. Have I engaged in negative stereotyping myself?

Yes, you’ve been the victim of stereotyping, but it’s likely that you’ve engaged in some yourself. The odds are high that you’ve referred to traditionalists as too slow, boomers as too uptight, and Xers as too negative. All of which may be true, but if you don’t want to be labelled, then the place to start with is yourself.

3. Do I try to see things from their perspective?

Do you understand why their point of view differs from yours? They didn’t grow up in the same environment that you did, so they see the world through a different set of eyes than you do.

You’ve grown up in a digital world where you can find information with access to services 24/7; it wasn’t always that way. You can go the grocery store and buy whatever you want with no concerns about food shortages; there was a time when resources were so scarce they had to be rationed. Most of you have grown up in families with high disposable incomes; but there were times when unemployment was as high as 17 per cent and corporate layoffs were so massive and widespread that households went from two breadwinners to zero overnight.

So if they don’t have the same perspective and outlook that you do, if they seem cynical and negative, then perhaps they have good reason.

4. Have I tried to fit in to the workplace culture?

You’re special and unique, and you’re making a statement to the world, and that’s good. But there is a time and a place for everything. If you’re working in an industry that’s known to be more conservative, or if you’re in a client-facing role where your customers are older, then covering up your tattoos or toning down your piercings does not mean that you’re compromising your values. It simply means that you’re being courteous to your customers, who, by the way, pay the bills, and ultimately your paycheque.

5. Do I come across as a know-it-all?

There’s no doubt that you probably know more about technology than people twice your age. You’ve grown up surrounded by digital media, so that’s hardly surprising. It’s commendable that you want to share your knowledge, but be aware that there’s a fine line between helping and showing off. Offer assistance to others, but only give the information if they acknowledge that they want it. And then jump in. Whether it’s formatting documents, creating spreadsheets, or finding information on the Web, if you can see a way to streamline a process, then chances are that your offer to help will build stronger working relationships, but only if you are mindful of your tone and approach.

6. Do I write well?

Whether you like it or not, people make judgments about your intelligence and your capabilities based on how you write. In today’s fast-paced world of instant messaging and texting, brevity is the name of the game, but e-mails and reports require a more formal (and lengthy) approach.

If you write well – full sentences, correct grammar, appropriate punctuation, proper capitalization – people make positive assumptions about you, in many cases, long before they meet you. Good writing reflects greater maturity, so writing well will give you a competitive advantage, as many of your peers have not realized that instant messaging etiquette does not apply to business communication.

Your youth doesn’t have to be a drawback. But only if you’re willing to adjust your attitude.

Merge Gupta-Sunderji (@mergespeaks) is a Gen-Xer who has more than 17 years of experience as a front-line leader in Corporate Canada. Her newest book is Generations Exposed: Unexpected Insights Into the People You Work With.

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