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Coaching in a Multigenerational Workplace

Post originally appeared on the International Coach Federation blog on September 27, 2017.

The workforce now contains workers from five (yes, five) generations. That means that the ages of both coaches and those they coach might fall anywhere over a 40- or 50-year range. The problem? A coach may end up coaching someone the age of their parent or grandparent…or of their child or grandchild!

Even the best of coaches may have a hard time coaching someone who’s older or younger than they are. It can be difficult to make a connection, and there may be preconceived notions that get in the way. Let’s talk about some issues a coach like you may run into while coaching people different ages and how you can overcome them.

Coaching Those Who are Older than You

It can be intimidating to coach people who are older than you, especially if the age gap is significant. Executive coach Andrew Sobel gives several tips for connecting with older clients. Most of them can be applied to clients of any age. However, there are two that are specifically relevant to coaching older clients.

The first is to “convey confidence tempered by humility.” Younger generations are often berated for being know-it-alls with no respect for the experience of age. While you shouldn’t be daunted by your client’s age, you also don’t want to come across as an upstart. Trust is incredibly important in a coaching relationship. If someone feels you lack either confidence or humility, they may be less willing to trust you as their coach, and therefore, may make no progress or may decide to end the coaching engagement.

At the same time, Sobel says, you should establish your expertise and credibility. Some people may misunderstand the role of a coach and feel that since you don’t have experience in their industry, you’re not credible. This may be especially true of older people who have years and years of experience, so you’ll have to try a little harder to show your expertise. Have you gone through coach-specific training? Do you have a coaching credential? Let the employee know. You can also explain to them that while you’re not an expert in their industry, you are an expert in motivating all kinds of people and unlocking their potential.

A final warning: you may be tempted to make assumptions about your older students through stereotypes—don’t do this! Keep your mind open so that you can see them as they really are.

Coaching Those Who are Younger than You

Twenty-three percent of coach practitioner clients are 35 and younger, and the coaching trend seems to be growing in this age group, so there’s a good chance that you’ll coach someone younger than you sooner rather than later.

Like older employees, many younger employees face stereotypes that are often not true. If you make assumptions about a younger client based on stereotypes of their generation, you won’t be able to find the coaching methods that work for them. Focus on the individual, not their age.

Also, resist the urge to talk down to a student who is younger than you. If they feel like you don’t take them seriously, they probably won’t take you seriously. Try not to let your own age or experience get in the way of your their growth process by letting stereotypes color your interactions with them.

Although these students have less experience than your older clients, don’t disregard the experience that they have had.  There are plenty of ways that their age can be a plus, not a minus—it’s the coach’s job to figure that out to help each student grow in relevant ways.

In Conclusion

In today’s multigenerational workforce, you may be called upon to coach clients of all ages. While there are challenges in coaching clients both older and younger than you, it’s possible to overcome these challenges with the right attitude. Once you see your students for the dedicated professionals that they are, it’s easier to ignore the many stereotypes that have been leveled against the older and younger generations.