Educators, employers, and parents often struggle to understand why the younger generations do not show them respect in the classroom, workplace, and home. What they haven’t realized is that respect works very differently today than when we were young. When I was growing up, I respected my elders, teachers, and employers first and worked tirelessly to earn their respect. Today’s younger generations have it 180 degrees in the opposite direction: they require you respect them first and then, and only then, will they mirror back that respect. Thankfully, the moment they feel that respect, they return it quickly.
I am not expressing this as the way it should be, but am simply communicating the truth as it relates to this generation. Older generations often struggle to demand respect as a given and that is simply a recipe for frustration and disappointment. Candidly, respect must be earned in both directions and is no longer assumed. This realization has been by far the biggest “ah-ha” moment I have witnessed from audiences and clients alike in the past several years.
Respect, defined by Merriam-Webster as “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way,” is shown in various ways depending on the relationship. For many, it boils down to listening seriously to the other person’s perspective, avoiding high-handed treatment that underscores the recipient’s inferior/dependent position, making decisions based on consensus rather than arbitrary opinions, and believing that the other person has valuable contributions to make. If we show respect to young people, they will respond in kind.
Several years ago, I delivered a keynote address where I presented the facts about respect to a large audience. Eight months later I received a personal note from a teacher thanking me for the information on respect, as it changed the way she interacted with her students and significantly improved student performance as a result. Ultimately, she didn’t need to make sweeping reforms to reach her class; she simply needed to adjust the way she interacted and motivated her students while standing on common ground. She made students feel unique, special, and important and that made all the difference. As their respect for her grew, so did their performance. These generations embody the notion that “they do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Over the years, I have received many such notes from teachers, business and industry professionals, and organizations that have embraced this simple yet elusive concept that “respect” is the carrot that everyone wants. Regardless of age, it is that one thing we all desire and hunt for in one way, shape, or form. We can maximize our interactions with the younger generations in all contexts by showing them the respect they crave. The key is to remember the order; respect that is first shown to the younger generation, they will then reciprocate in their personal, educational, and professional interactions.
If you haven’t tried this approach with your younger coworkers, employees, students, or children, consider how you might implement it in your next interaction. It’s easier than you think and may make all the difference in the foundation you are laying for a mutually respectful and productive relationship.