Hand Gen Z a Manual Can Opener and This Is What Happens

Become aware of your assumptions and improve your communication with Generation Z (or across generations).

Your view influences what you do.

A recent interaction with Generation Z made me realize how hindering assumptions can be.

My wife and I recently threw a first birthday party for our youngest son. We had a Gen Z family friend help us with preparing the food for the party.

The Gen Zer was asked to prepare a portion of a dish that required capers. She was quickly handed a can of capers along with a manual can opener and my wife and I went back to busily preparing the other dishes.

A few minutes passed and we noticed there was no progress on the Gen Zer’s dish. A quick glance at the Gen Zer revealed the culprit. 

She was watching a video on her phone. 

She wasn’t procrastinating, quite the opposite, she was learning.

She was watching a YouTube tutorial on how to use a manual can opener.

Our view was that everyone knew how to use our kitchen tools. The can opener represented our assumption that everyone knew how to use one. Also contributing to the miscommunication was our busyness and focus on the task and not the person.

In today’s fast-paced world, assumptions can be crippling. The cost of a few additional minutes to prepare a dish for a birthday party isn’t a big deal, but some things that we nonchalantly hand to Gen Z could have bigger consequences.  What if the can opener that we handed Gen Z was social media, a smartphone, a car, or a business? In those cases, Gen Z’s ignorance coupled with their resourcefulness and DIY-ness has the potential to harm themselves and others.
In my line of work as a speaker and trainer on Gen Z, I see organizations hand Gen Z various “can openers” in the form of Excel, CRMs, training, workplace etiquette, dress code, etc. and all too often it results in expectations not being met and frustration ensues.

Left unchecked and our long-held assumptions have the capacity to hinder the effectiveness and performance of the emerging generations at work.

Can openers represent opportunities to step into Gen Z’s world to get to know them better, build a relationship, and instill the appropriate behavior. Even if the goal (or assumption) is to figure it out on your own, guidelines and guardrails can empower the individual to safely or more effectively engage, fail, and learn.

It’s easy to forget or not realize that 62 percent of Gen Z doesn’t remember a time before the Great Recession, none of them were old enough to process the events of 9/11, and all of them are younger than Google.

Gen Z are a different generation with different skills, experiences, perspectives, and views.

With more and more varying expectations, experiences in the workforce, take the time to challenge assumptions and over communicate expectations. Gen Z will be better for it.

Don’t let your assumptions get the best of you and Gen Z.

What can openers are you handing over to Gen Z?

Ryan Jenkins is an internationally-recognized keynote speaker and author on the topics of leadership, generational differences, and the future of work. He is the co-founder of SyncLX, which creates lasting learning experiences for companies’ #1 asset, their people.

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