In our book The Reluctant Mentor, we discuss the aspect of members of Generation Y (Millennials) mentoring baby boomers. Generation Y has grown up surrounded by technology. Working with technology is almost intuitive for them.
Baby boomers have seen the world evolve from pen and paper to electronic. Some have adapted better than others. But few are as comfortable with technology as their younger counterparts. And few stay as up to date with the rapid rate of change as Generation Y.
As a result, we see members of Gen-Y mentoring baby boomers – reverse mentoring. With this in mind, we present 7 tips for Millennials to keep in mind for mentoring baby boomers.
Related post: Reversing the Roles on Mentoring
Understand the baby boomer’s point of view.
Some baby boomers think they are up on technology because they have a smart phone and use email. Some fight technology because they claim they don’t need it. They have a flip phone and that it is all they need.
Wherever they are on the technology spectrum, keep in mind that they grew up (and survived quite well, thank you) without any of today’s technology. Whether they long for simpler days or are just intimidated by the rapid-fire change of technology, try to consider where they came from.
They know they can live without it because they have done so.
Don’t force it.
Sure, the baby boomer has a lot to learn. You may wonder how anyone can survive without a Twitter account. Before you create the twitter account for her and force her to log on, make sure it’s a technology she’s interested in learning.
Forcing new technology on someone will likely result in greater resistance.
See related post: How to Be Mentored
Sell the benefit
If you think a baby boomer could benefit from a technology that they know nothing about, show them how it would benefit them. It could be a business or personal benefit. You could explain to them why you use it and how it benefits you. But it has to also be a benefit to the baby boomer. If you use Twitter because it’s fun, they may not “get” what is fun about it.
However, if the baby boomer could use Twitter to market her company’s products, that could be a much greater benefit.
Don’t make the baby boomer feel stupid.
Every time someone from Generation Y discusses a new technology, some baby boomer in the room will feel stupid enough for not speaking the language. If you are even the least bit condescending about teaching a baby boomer how to use newer technologies, they may shut down to avoid any further embarrassment.
With that in mind, it is best not to call it mentoring. Mentoring for the baby boomer is something he thinks he should be doing for you. Many baby boomers would be offended if you “mentored” them. Instead, call it helping. If you tell a third party that you’re “Helping Paul with some stuff,” Paul will be much less humiliated than if you told the same person that you’re mentoring him.
Related post: The Secret to Giving Advice As a Mentor
Explain it, don’t do it
Once you’ve got the baby boomer open to a new technology and you’ve decided to “help” her, you may have a tendency to save some time and take over the keyboard or the smartphone and show them how it’s done.
However, with the familiarity that you have, you may have a tendency to go too fast for them to follow. It is best to hand control of the device over to the baby boomer. Then walk her through each step. It takes more time. But she will develop more familiarity and learn how to do it faster in the long run.
Be patient while mentoring baby boomers
You may have never taken a keyboarding class in your life, but you can navigate a keyboard faster than a professional administrative assistant. The baby boomer may use the hunt and peck system at about one-fifth the rate of your normal speed. Bear with him.
In addition, you may have to stop and explain jargon that represents everyday terms for you. Be patient while he asks the benefit of favoriting a tweet. Not every baby boomer knows intuitively that the gear wheel represents settings. Many don’t even understand what settings are for.
Patiently answer every question and watch for confused looks when he doesn’t understand but is too embarrassed to ask.
Make it a conversation
Mentoring invokes images of drawings on the whiteboard and lecture-based teaching. Instead, mentoring can be a conversation where one person explains something and answers questions.
Also, keep in mind that the person you are mentoring has many years of experience in his industry. That old guy may have a few things to teach you. Turn it into a mutual mentoring relationship where you both learn from each other.
The new generation entering the workplace has never known a world without the Internet and mobile phones. They have a high comfort level with technology. The baby boomers they work with are likely to be much less comfortable with the new technologies that come out on a daily basis.
Mentoring the baby boomers can lead to a more productive workforce and better relationships between the generations. If a member of Generation Y wants to mentor someone from the baby boom generation, he or she will need to do it diplomatically and with dignity to be effective.
What has been your experience with reverse mentoring? Us baby boomers would love to hear about it.
We welcome your questions and comments.