Appreciating All Generations – Intergenerational Dialog

Appreciative Inquiry Discovery Interview on Intergenerational DialogueWhat are the stereotypes we attach to the different generations? Is there a lack of intergenerational dialog? If you were to generalize, how might you complete these sentences?

 Old people are. . . .Young people are. . . .

If you have difficulty generalizing, that’s a good thing, as we are all unique and different.

Expanding our World Views

It appears our world is moving toward greater tolerance in many things and greater acceptance of diversity—culture, generations, working styles, education, diet, entertainment and so on.

Fashion, music and performance art often lead the way, as they are indicators of new movements and emergent trends. Moreover, movies and YouTube videos from all over the world are available to us 24/7, so we are more exposed to and welcoming of difference.

We see bright young people with great wisdom doing amazing things with games and technology and music and movement. We see old people with youthful curiosity who have energy and sparkle, and are interested in everything, and are willing and keen to share their stories and insights of earlier times.

Mutual Admiration – Intergenerational Dialog

When we stop to think about it, there is so much to admire in all the generations. Imagine the power of having such an open perspective at all times—understanding and appreciation make conversations so much easier and more generative.

When we let go of judgment, we achieve far more because we focus on what is being presented to us.  Without preconceptions, we can appreciate what another is truly saying, instead of investing energy into stereotyping people based on prior assumptions or prejudices.

Let me encourage you to enter into inter-generational dialogue.  You could engage a member of your own family, a colleague at work, a neighbor, a stranger.  The framework below is a guide to help you.  Invest your energy in inquiring into the world of a different generation.  Be prepared to be surprised …. and expect to find some commonalities.  Delight in being present with someone of a different generation with an open heart and an open mind.

Starting the Conversation

Sit down with someone and invite them to remember a positive experience they had with a person of a different generation. Suggest that this experience may have been at home, at work, at a workshop, at a party, during a commute, on a park bench or anywhere.  Ask them to tell their story of how this encounter shifted their perspective about this different generation, and left them feeling positive and uplifted from the conversation.

  • Invite this other person to tell their story of their inter-generational experience
    • Who was involved?
    • What were they doing?
    • What were they saying to each other, or what were they noticing  and learning?
  • Without being humble, what were some of the specific things they contributed to make this a positive experience? What were they doing, thinking or feeling? What are they proud of when they reflect on their own positive contribution?
  • And, what did they value about the person with whom they were engaged? What qualities stood out?
  • What insights did they gain from the conversation?  What's uniquely special about this other generation?
  • What commonalities did they find and what are some of the underlying strengths of both generations?
  • What made them shift their perspective?

These questions are part of theDiscovery Phase of Appreciative Inquiry.  What can follow from the Discovery interview are the Dream, Design and Destiny phases.  When you delve into these phases, you are on the path to a truly powerful transformation in human relations.

The full interview protocol that takes you through the Dream, Design and Destiny phases of the AI interview, as well as 20 other interview topics are available in my book, “Appreciative Inquiry for Collaborative Solutions: 21 Strength-based Workshops, published by Pfeiffer/John Wiley.

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  • susanmazza

    The inter-generational conversation is becoming more and more important to us all. Thanks for offering a framework for exploring those relationships more deeply.

  • Susan, thanks for your acknowledgement. Staying in that state of inquiry is so helpful in expanding awareness and understanding. With four generations active in our society, there's a great deal we can learn from each other and many ways we can successfully engage with each other.

  • Wonderful post, Robyn. I've always believed in the strengths of all generations and get perturbed with comments like "this younger generation isn't as hardworking/dedicated as we used to be" or "people from older generations are so stuck in their ways"… my personal experiences have been so different. I get the wisest advice from my 3 children whenever I share any problems I'm currently facing, with them. My 15 year old even enters into conversations on my work as an OD consultant. My father at 77 has recently started getting more adept at using facebook – with some hilarious starting mistakes like putting up comments meant for me only, onto a publicly shared post/photograph… Like you rightly put it if we refuse to be judgmental and put people of different generations, genders, races into stereotypes we will see the beauty in each of them and create a more beautiful world…. And, oh! I love your book… It is one of my treasures! 🙂

    • Kiran, thank you. Your story is perfectly illustrative of this topic. I am always so heartened whenever I facilitate workshops in organizational contexts and I see the powerful realizations that come from the mixed generations who maybe engaging in deep and meaningful conversations for the first time. They all come out of the experience with newer insights. They have co-created a new reality for themselves.. That's truly generative. I really appreciate your contribution.

    • Kiran, thank you. Your story is perfectly illustrative of this topic. I am always so heartened whenever I facilitate workshops in organizational contexts and I see the powerful realizations that come from the mixed generations who maybe engaging in deep and meaningful conversations for the first time. They all come out of the experience with newer insights. They have co-created a new reality for themselves.. That's truly generative. I really appreciate your contribution.

      • PS – thanks for your positive feedback about my book. It's not the first time you've mentioned how valuable you find the book. It delights me every time. I want it to be loved and used and used.

  • This is such a key generational principle we need to embrace, Robyn. Engaging in a cross-generational conversation bears so much fruit. All learn; all grow; and all are stronger from it. I work in healthcare and recently wrote in a HIMSS blog about the importance of cross-generational conversations when it comes to health IT. We need to embrace the diversity and share experiences.

    Thanks for encouraging these activities and principles! Jon

    • Hi Jon. I am delighted you've shared your thoughts. I would very much like to read your post on the HIMSS blog if it's in the public domain. There is so much to be gained from putting the inter generational worldviews into the melting pot to find what rises to the top. What's your experience about the impetus for this topic? Are you finding that all three dominant generations, Y, X and Boomers are equally as enthusiastic and curious? Wondering?