How Empathy Helps Bridge Generational Differences

As long as we have generations, we will have the following: nods of disapproval, eye rolls and facepalms while we take a deep breath. There’s just something about the generation older and younger than on our own that makes us do these things.

SPOILER ALERT: They are doing the same things to us.

Bridging the Generation Gap with Empathy

For many, this triggering of emotions through seemingly uncontrollable body language appears as a sign of disrespect. But for me, it shows a lack of empathy on everyone’s part — an unwillingness to understand the other person. It is that emptiness of empathy that is a regular struggling point between generations.

This is a topic that has come up many times on Thin Difference.

Empathy, the ability to understand someone else’s feelings, is one of the most important traits we can have. Leading with empathy creates a road map that will always benefit both parties.

I’ve always felt that at the root of any disagreement or displeasure with a situation is a deep misunderstanding of that situation. When we have “had enough” of someone, we’ll often use phrases like “I’m trying to get him to understand,” or “doesn’t she realize,” “I don’t get what he’s doing.”

You’ll never understand what that other person is thinking if you don’t attempt to find out.

Caught Between Two Generations

For the first time in my life I’m feeling smack dab in the middle of two generations. I have my parents on one side and my daughter on the other. Being in this position, I’ve also found that I’ve become more dependent on my parents and daughter.

When I am asked for assistance or perhaps seek it out, many times, without thinking straight, I want it on my terms; this is how I would do it, so this is how you should do it.

But it does not work that way, regardless of which generation you are dealing with.

Technology and the growing dependence our world has on it, has become an area of friction between Baby Boomers and, well, pretty much every generation after them. For example, my mom was having a problem with something on her phone, and I asked her “to text me a screen cap” of what she was seeing. Huh? That phrase is literally a foreign language to her and many people.

This struggle regularly shows up in the workplace. Technology aids us in doing things more efficiently and keeping us better connected. So when someone is out of the loop or working slower, it’s just so irritating … to us. And while many people will forever be stuck in their old ways, there are many that are willing to learn. But we need to understand that not everyone learns at the same pace. If we gain a better understanding of why someone is having trouble, then we can help find the right solution.

Teaching Empathy

When it comes to my daughter, our struggles are mostly about time management. Up until she was 10, she was pretty content going with the flow of whatever myself and my wife were up to. If we said we were going somewhere, she was going too. She also rarely suggested play dates, sleepovers or trips to the mall. This all changed once she became a tween.

Now she wants to do all of those things, all of the time. Those trips to the mall, the roller rink, coffee shops and trampoline cost money and perhaps even worse, my time … and my wife’s time and the time of the other parents.

If they want to do these things, someone has to drive them and in some cases wait for them. While it’s easy to say no, because it would inconvenience me, I have to remember to empathize.

Whenever I am using “I” too much in a conflict, I do not fully understand the big picture. I have to remember what it was like to be 12 years old and not want to sit at home on a Saturday. I have to remember what it’s like to walk around a mall with my friends, the freedom, the fun. I have to remember what it feels like to always hear the word “no.”

And so I oblige, sometimes.

But I also use it as an opportunity to teach empathy. When the answer is “no,” she needs to understand why. Because “no” isn’t because I don’t want her to be with her friends — which would be the assumption and why she would get angry with me. It’s usually because the ask is disrupting an already scheduled out day. I’ve noticed her approach has been different lately.

She now asks “are we doing anything later today,” or tomorrow, or on Saturday night, etc. She has a much better understanding of our situations and how she needs to consider them so she can have the result she wants.

There’s No “I” in Empathy

Earlier I mentioned phrases that are often born out of frustration we are having with someone. Those phrases all included the “I.” I have found whenever I am using “I” too much in dealing with conflict, then I do not fully understand the big picture.

I am not empathizing.

It’s when “I” turns into “we” that we can reach the ideal compromise. And when we have compromise through empathy, the walls built between generations become be much smaller.

By : Justin Kanoya

Photo by Dario Valenzuela on Unsplash

GenerationsCommunication, Culture, Empathy, Family, Generations. Post link.

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In a fractured world, can we hack our own sense of empathy and get others to become more empathic? Professor, Department of Psychology, Stanford University Jamil Zaki is an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University. His research examines social cognition and behavior, especially how people understand and respond to each other’s emotions. This work spans a number of domains, social influence, prosocial behavior, and especially empathy (see ssnl.stanford.edu for details). In addition to studying the mechanics of empathy, Dr. Zaki’s work focuses on helping people empathize better. For instance, new research from his lab examines how to encourage empathy for people from distant political and ethnic groups, and also how caregivers and healthcare professionals can effectively empathize with their patients while maintaining their own well being. http://ssnl.stanford.edu

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