It’s time to ‘shut up and listen’ to millennials

Millennials have a lot to offer a workplace, this author says. It’s time older generations give them a chance.

“Daddy, sometimes I want you to just listen and not try and solve everything.”

My daughter said this in her junior year of college. Now she is a college graduate with not one, but two undergraduate degrees. It’s a quote I haven’t forgotten. I think of it every time I talk to someone or am in a meeting.

I thought of her statement the day after a snowstorm paralyzed the New York City area last December. After shoveling, my daughter and I settled down in our TV room and had a glass of wine together. We talked into the night, just me and my “little girl.” I listened.

We’ve all been there

Our conversation that night covered a range of topics, but it wasn’t unusual; we always have long father/daughter conversations. I used to have the same type of conversations with my son, who is a member of Generation X.

I thought of my parents and the spirited discussions my brothers and I had with them. “They just do not understand us,” my brothers and I would always say. From our clothes, politics, hair styles, and even our taste in music, we did not always agree.

As Yogi Berra would characterize it, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Boomers, wake up. We have all been there.

This generational divide has spawned numerous articles about millennials and other generations in the workplace. Are millennials really that different from other generations? John Hollon’s article on TLNT spoke eloquently of this generation as not being visitors from Mars.

Throughout the conversation with my daughter, I listened and offered value only when she asked. I gave insight referencing situations and the importance of cataloging life. That way, I noted, you can always go back and review. My goal is to guide my daughter in being not only an adjusted adult, but also a competent manager.

Being “the answer man” doesn’t help workers learn

As managers, we often get caught up in being “the answer man.” As soon as a direct report presents us with a situation, we begin to formulate our answers even before the last word is out of his mouth. We arm our weapons before we see the target.

We pride ourselves on having the answers. But does this help people grow? Do we really prepare them to lead? I don’t think so.

A few of the most powerful words in the human vocabulary are what, why, when, where, and how. Used in sequential order, these words are a great model for following up after listening. None of the words convey your thoughts or opinions, but they tend to cause people to think through a situation more thoroughly.

Society has examined, poked and probed millennials in every way possible. But Baby Boomers—myself included—were viewed a whole lot worse. Everyone from parents to institutions saw us in basically the same way we now pontificate about Generations X and Y.

These new generations have given us tools that have changed the course of humanity.

Time magazine named Mark Zuckerberg its Person of the Year for 2010. Blogs, texts, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr are all results of other generations following through on their dreams. Based on this track record, maybe we should listen more to them.

Boomers have a lot to learn from millennials

The reality is Boomers have much to learn from their younger workers. Do not make broad assumptions. If there is something you do not understand, ask them directly. Use their generational views as part of the decision-making process.

Many have defined this generation as willing to collaborate and focus on teamwork. Last time I checked, these qualities are treasured in today’s workforce.

What’s the matter with young people today? Frankly, nothing. The next time you are confronted with that question, just shut up and listen. As my father would tell me from time to time, “Shut up and listen. You may learn something.”

Ron Thomas is the director of talent and human resources solutions at Buck Consultants. A version of this article originally appeared on

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