According to Pew Research, approximately 45 million baby boomers are in the workforce. Not surprisingly, these individuals tend to occupy the senior-most positions within organizations. Millennials, now 53.5 million strong, however often occupy entry-level roles. This imbalance between younger and older workers often creates tension, primarily because younger millennial workers are often in situations where they have to persuade their older boomers.
Beginning with decentering and then executing these six tips should help millennial workers to more effectively persuade the boomers.
Tip #1 – Decenter
Before you can influence, you will need to “decenter;”that is, move from being locked into a constant state of self-centered perception. This form of deep reflection will allow you to create a more precise picture about your boomers and understand the challenging context that s/he faces. Decentering should also allow you to more precisely assess yourself and your needs because you will take an “outsiders” view of yourself.
Tip #2 – Rely on your Referent Power
Referent power is defined as the ability to influence others based on others’ having a desire to be associated with you. This could take many forms such as identification and attraction, but generally begins with “liking,” which means people generally say yes to those they like. Robert Cialdini, in his best-selling influence books, states this type of influence hinges on how similar you are to the other person. Although boomers grew up in a different time, they do remember the advantages of being young — a time where they weren’t tarnished by the circumstances of life and could see the world in terms of endless possibilities. You should seek to understand your similarity to the boomer in this regard and then carefully, through solid experiences, show how your limitless views have yielded results.
Tip #3 Increase Your Expert Power
Expert power is defined as the ability to influence others based on expertise, skill, or knowledge. This is similar to Cialdini’s concept of authority wherein people are more likely to say yes to those they view as authorities. Millennials know the most about current technologies. Your experience with new technology may place you in the position to become an authority in your boomer’s eyes. In this regard, you should identify opportunities to demonstrate how technology costs are justified because it can enhance productivity – versus being another trivial distraction or something that merely can make work a better place. This way, you will be able to teach your boomers what you already know while gaining more respect by serving as a technological needs resource. Tapping into Cialdini’s concepts of scarcity and consistency can also bolster your expert power. For scarcity, explaining to your boomers adopting a particular technology for a certain cost is a limited-time offer because of your relationship with a friend. This is especially persuasive since it’s been shown that people overvalue things that are rare, dwindling in availability, or hard to acquire. For consistency, seek opportunities to gain mini public commitments from your boomers. For example, asking them for a commitment to a portion of the technology, such as a proof of concept, not only requires you, but also others in the organization, to facilitate this public commitment idea.
Tip #4 – Exercise Rational Persuasion
Rational persuasion is defined as logical arguments/hard facts. Millennials, and all people really, get trapped into trying to influence boomers based on ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Conversations often begin with, “I feel.” Saying this however, signals a lack of confidence. In contrast, focusing on facts has an opposite effect. In this regard, pointing to “facts” pays off. And, research shows that people are more likely to say yes when presented with solid and “un” manipulated facts.
Add more fire-power to your rationally persuasive argument by using a programmed decision-making framework, such as a step-by-step linear model. Researchers have found that linear models produce predictions superior to those of experts across an impressive array of areas. In general, the use of linear models can help decision-makers avoid the pitfalls of many judgment biases.
In meetings, seek to fully uncover the critical facts. That is, when trying to develop solutions for problems, research shows we tend to dive into figuring out solutions first. Instead, plan to spend a majority of time on uncovering facts about the problem or what led to the problem. For an hour-long meeting, no less than 50 percent of the time should be spent uncovering facts related to the cause of the problem. This allows a shared dataset to be developed – which is critical, because it contains a more complete view of all the relevant information. This is a form of “analogical reasoning,” used to reduce boundaries of people’s knowledge. In effect, by surfacing all the relevant facts, we are forced to consider and choose between multiple options simultaneously rather than simply accepting or rejecting options separately.
Tip #5 – Utilize Inspirational Appeal
Inspirational appeal is defined as appealing to a person’s values/ideals. Central to inspirational appeal is understanding and knowing your boomers’ values. Decentering is the first step. Thereafter, observing, asking your boomers and then – most importantly- listening for clues is important. Researchers have consistently shown that isolating values and then “speaking to” those values increases the likelihood of a positive response to your idea.
Spend time framing your idea in those terms. Values can be easily identified through Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations survey. After rating your boomers’ values on Haidt’s website, turn your boomers’ “no” to “yes” by crafting a message that appeals to these values.
Tip #6 Showcase Network Centrality and Be a Broker
Last, your boomers hired you for a reason. And, it may be because of your network. Networks are defined as a set of relationships that enables personal and professional advancement and development. The two most effective network strategies are network centrality or becoming a broker. It may be that you are a central member or a broker of a particular network. Leverage this, by using Cialdini’s principle of reciprocity – which is defined as people feel obligated to repay (in kind) what has been given to them. By showing your boomers your centrality in a network, you are able to highlight how this position may be helpful to them. In a large company, for example, you may have forged friendships with individuals that your boomers needs. And, through your measure of visibility or importance in this network, a boomer may be willing to exchange a yes for access. And even better, you may become a central figure between non-redundant contacts in your organization where your boomers isn’t. Here again, capitalize on the principle of reciprocity to facilitate a reciprocal exchange. What if you don’t have a network that your boomers needs? Well, the simple answer is: pay attention to your boomers’ needs and begin to either form or participate in networks that meet the need.
Sal Mistry, PhD, teaches Management and Organization at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.