3 tips on managing people older than you, from an accounting executive in his early 30s

Intern2YouTube / Warner Bros. PicturesRobert De Niro and Anne Hathaway in ‘The Intern.’

If you’re rapidly climbing up the career ladder, sooner or later you may find yourself managing people who are older than you. This can be kind of awkward and, in some cases, can cause friction in the workplace.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. According to David Isaacs, a wealth advisor and CPA at Traust Sollus Wealth Management in New York, good conversation is the most important tool you can have.

Isaacs is a millennial, and is tired of hearing the stereotypical labels of laziness and entitlement about his generation. He told Business Insider that although the immediate response to “millennial” being used as a derogatory term is annoyance, he has learned to take a step back from it.

The same logic can be applied to when you find you’re in charge of managing people in a team who are in older generations. They might see you as spoilt or arrogant because of your age, but you can understand why they think that and change their mind with good communication.

“My recommendation would be to try to be more intentional in your communication, and say, ‘OK, help me understand why you think the way you do, or why you feel that that’s accurate,'” Isaacs said. “Everyone looks at situations through the lens of the past, so their experiences are going to dictate how they view what’s coming after them. We can talk to each other and actually understand what someone is communicating.”

Here are Isaac’s three tips for what to do if you find yourself in a sticky situation with an older colleague at work:

1. Improve the team’s communication

One way you can do this is by investing in communication training. Isaacs said that in the course his company took, one of the trainers pointed out that communication kills conflict, and conflict kills communication. So learning to talk to each other and appreciate each other’s points of view is pretty valuable in terms of reducing workplace friction.

2. Pay attention to different opinions

Nobody is perfect. Isaacs said that with this in mind, there is always something new to learn, and there’s always someone else who has a different experience to you. If you approach a situation with the assumption you’re always correct, then you’re effectively shutting down any valuable communication.

“Maybe it still ends up that you’re going to do what you wanted, but maybe not, maybe there’s another possibility you haven’t thought of,” Isaacs said.

3. Ask how they want to be managed

Not everyone wants to be managed the same way, which is important to remember. Isaacs said the first question he asks someone who joins his team is “How would you like to be managed?” in order to understand what kind of style they will benefit from.

People who are fresh out of university compared to those who have been in the same company for 15 to 20 years will require very different management styles. Some people like to be told exactly what to do, whereas others appreciate being left alone.

“[You can ask] ‘What can I do to facilitate your productivity and your progress?'” Isaacs said. “You just need to be able to facilitate their work; you don’t necessarily need to micromanage them — unless they want you to do that.”

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