Communicating in a workplace environment with someone of a different generation can be tricky.
When you’re looking for clarification on a pending task from someone of a different age, should you call them on the phone, send an email or a GChat, or perhaps release a pigeon?
But it’s not just the means of getting in touch that can be confusing, it’s also the difference in attitude.
When the age difference in question is not just a few years but more than a few decades, like between young football players and a coach, miscommunications are almost guaranteed.
New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin’s birth year — 1946 — puts him at the start of the baby boomer generation, but his coaching style and behaviour fit more firmly into the traditionalist or silent generation’s mindset.
After all, as Aaron Gordon points out over at Vice Sports, he’s big on discipline and rules. He has prohibited everything from socks that don’t reach mid-calf to TVs in the training, equipment, and weight rooms. Coughlin forbids hats, sunglasses, and slouching during meetings.
Gordon notes that in a notable Washington Post profile, Sally Jenkins described Coughlin as “a Patton-like, megalomaniac throwback.”
No slouch indeed.
Coughlin’s players on the other hand are most definitely millennials, averaging just over 26 years of age.
But instead of maintaining a “kids these days” attitude or just saying “I’m in charge,” Coughlin is taking a non-traditional approach and trying to figure out how to best communicate with his squad. He told a New York Post reporter that the Giants “did a study on millennials to ‘understand these guys, this generation.'”
Coughlin had clinical psychologist Dr. Chris Bogart of The Southfield Center for Development come talk to him and the rest of his coaching staff to figure out how to best motivate his players.
Bogart ran through some of the ways that generations differ. A traditionalist like Coughlin respects authority, discipline, hard work, and rules. His millennial players, on the other hand, are more likely to be multi-taskers who like collaboration, electronic communication, and who want to contribute their own ideas and opinions and don’t like being bored or ignored.
Specifically for dealing with athletes, Bogart recommended involving them in the conversation instead of just lecturing at them and giving them something to “work with” like a ball or pen while they listen — something that might be a change for a coach with rigid definitions of appropriate behaviour.
Coughlin was into it.
“Going in there…I thought he would encounter it from a little bit of a more closed front, like, hey, this isn’t what’s worked for me and I’ve won two Super Bowls and who’s this guy telling me different ways of looking at things. But [Coughlin] could not have been more open to what we had to present,” Bogart told Vice Sports.
Bogart says Coughlin sat in the front, asked questions, took notes, and said “obviously we need to do some things differently and embrace the idea that a learning environment is different today than it was 30 years ago.”
And the presentation itself, which Bogart provided to Vice and we’ve embedded below, is full of good advice for anyone looking to understand a bit more about the general attitudes of particular generations and the events and technology that shaped those worldviews.
As for whether or not it will change Coughlin’s actual approach, we’ll see. After all, as Gordon says, this is the guy who “fined players for being late because they were in a car accident.”
Check out the presentation:
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