Building Trust Between Generations – Six Ways

By September 16, 2013Generations

Kate Nasser stated:

“When the leadership in an organization see and focus on the differences, they widen the gap. When the leadership see the possibilities for success at the intersection of talents, the gap disappears.” Leadership Generations: When Energy Meets Experience, September 2013

I agree. In the intersection, trust builds.

Kate started the #PeopleSkills community and facilitates a weekly chat focusing on how “to connect with others’ talents.” In the last chat, I joined as a co-host to focus on how to foster trust between generations. It was an active chat with many thoughts and ideas exchanged.

In preparing for the chat and digesting the community insights, several thoughts emerged. We need to continue the conversation on how to build trust between generations and, more importantly, we need to take action. It is a call for all generations: GI, Silent, Baby Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y, and Generation Z. This is our time to work together and build a better future.

Building Trust Between Generations

6 Ways to Build Trust Between Generations

1 – Reverse mentoring. Mentoring is valuable and often viewed as an older person offering wisdom and advice to someone younger. There is little doubt about the value of this type of mentoring relationship. Another approach gaining steam is reverse mentoring. Leaders and managers from older generations are receiving advice from Millennials on a variety of topics. This is where trust takes root. Whatever our role or our generation, we need to engage in a mentoring relationship and reverse mentoring will build long-lasting trust. Reverse mentoring is about learning and forming trust between generations.

2 – Imagine a round table. It is unfortunate that many conference tables are rectangular. We choose sides. Someone sits at the head of the table. It sets an implied structure. Instead, we need to imagine a round table. All voices have an equal say, an important insight. Round tables set the mindset of openness and drop our role, organizational, and generational stiffness. Free-flowing exchanges and open mindsets create trust between generations.

3 – Focus on individual uniqueness and talents. Generalizations don’t always apply and can be distracting from what someone’s talents, perspectives, and gifts can bring to the work to be done, the problems to be solved, or the initiatives to be achieved. Take time to know an individual; it is about empathy in action. It is about developing trust between generations.

4 – Ask a question to learn. We are good at talking at another person. How good are we in asking questions to learn more about another? We need to do less talking and more asking of meaningful questions. To learn something about someone, it takes more than one question. Ask ten questions… maybe twenty! Good questions lead to good conversations. Good questions coupled with undistracted listening leads to better trust between generations.

5 – Move beyond the headlines. It may be better to just ignore the headlines. A recent article triumphantly said “Millennials Now Bringing Their Parents Along on Job Interviews.” If you read deeper, the percentage was small and no context was provided. In the Wall Street Journal article on this topic, it went deeper into how family involvement helped in attracting and retaining quality talent. Regardless of the surveys of the moment, we cannot get caught up in the headlines. Digging deeper into the information raises our awareness and understanding. More importantly, skip the surveys and join a group of Millennials in a conversation; it will be much more valuable and build trust in much better ways.

6 – Focus on character and less on characteristics. Character matters most. Many Millennial characteristics are highlighted, and some are really about how previous generations have parented. In other words, the “characteristics” really are a reflection on what Boomers and Generation X did as parents. It’s not about Millennials but the impact of parenting ways. We need to move beyond the intense focus on characteristics and focus more on character. We need to mentor where we can, guide where we must, and develop a fruitful exchange of ideas and principles at all times. This is where trust takes root and grows.

Trust Begins with Us

No matter our generation, trust begins with us. We need to take the necessary actions to build trust between generations. It is the way to learn from the lessons of history while working together for a better future. Let’s do this!

For a few added thoughts on how to build trust between generations, you can read my post entitled “How to Build Trust Between Generations.”

Join in the conversation. How can we build trust between generations?

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 19 Comments

  • […] Building Trust Between Generations – Six Ways by Jon Mertz. Key quote: “No matter our generation, trust begins with us. We need to take the necessary actions to build trust between generations. It is the way to learn from the lessons of history while working together for a better future.” […]

  • Susan Mazza says:

    Fabulous Jon! I especially love the reverse mentoring suggestion. Opening yourself up to learning from another edifies them and humbles you. In so doing it helps to level the playing field – something we need to do a better job of in every dimension of diversity, not just age.

    • Jon M says:

      Great point, Susan. It is important to embrace the practice of reverse mentoring in many other areas… it will make us all stronger leaders. Thanks so much! Jon

  • Gerardo says:

    Great approach Jon! Certainly we must build trust between generations and it isn’t an easy task. Keep helping us with your contributions. Gerardo

  • AALane says:

    Great piece thank you

  • Lalita says:

    Wonderful post. I liked all your points and each of them are relevant. Among my favorites are ask a question, go beyond the headlines, focus on character rather than characteristics.
    Stereotyping only tells us a single story., it fails to recognize the uniqueness. Judgement kills the uniqueness in each of us.

    Trust matters and it is our mindsets which plays an important role in the way we choose to act and behave.

    Superb post Jon.

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Lalita, for your feedback and insights. It is a great point on how judgment can kill uniqueness in another. It would be much better to seek to understand and learn another point of view. It is about building a trusting relationship and we need to have the right mindset. Grateful for your comments! Jon

  • Alli Polin says:

    Fantastic! I think that the other thing we can do is stop judging. When we ask the questions, listen, learn. Trust creates the space for learning and connection. All of your suggestions are actionable and spot on.

  • Randy Conley says:

    Excellent thoughts, Jon. I particularly like your point about focusing more on character and less on characteristics. My experience with Millennials, and every other generation, is that a person’s core values trump their generational label. And when it comes down to it, many of us have similar core values that provide the platform for us to leverage each other’s ideas, insights, and contributions in the workplace and in life.

    Keep up your excellent work!


    • Jon M says:

      Agree, Randy. There are commonality of certain principles and it provides a great place to build a trust relationship in a more productive way. There is so much to be learned from each other; we just need to take the time or stop wasting time on things that don’t matter. Let’s focus on what matters: how we can work together for a better future ahead. Thanks for your insights on this post! Jon

  • Terri Klass says:

    Outstanding post, Jon on the importance of helping teams represented by different generations collaborate!
    I believe through working with generations side by side, that understanding and appreciating what each brings to the table (I love round!) is essential. Being able to leverage each generations’ strengths is more important than looking for their differences.
    I have seen reverse mentoring work beautifully where baby boomers learn so much about technology from the millennials and the millennials learn so much about institutional wisdom from the baby boomers.
    Thanks for continuing this dialogue!

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Terri. I know I have learned a great deal from Millennials and seek their insights and advice. It is a win-win and we always have great conversations. Leveraging each other’s strengths and perspectives will make us all stronger leaders and help build a better way forward. Thanks! Jon

  • KateNasser says:


    These are tremendous suggestions — inspirational and actionable – which to me is a winning combination. In fact your post is itself a living example of what you are writing about.

    A post I wrote recently, sparked your suggestion for #Peopleskills chat topic, which in turn brought us to collaborate on Qs for the chat, and now culminates in your new post.

    Respect for diverse insights, open-minded exchanges, appreciation of talents, and winning together far outweigh traditional models of “competition”.

    Bravo to you. You actually live what you write and this speaks volumes to all you touch.

    Warmest regards and thanks for your collaborative insights,

    • Jon M says:

      Kate, Thank you. You have instigated great conversations and insights and your impact is huge. We need to have the openness and embrace diverse perspectives; it is what makes us stronger as leaders and as communities.

      Your kind words are greatly appreciated and am grateful for all you do and for your support. Thank you. Jon

  • Chantal Bechervaise says:

    Great read Jon! It was a very interesting PeopleSkills chat as well. I think we have to stop focusing on labels. Once we labels someone (regardless of what the label is) it boxes them into that stereotype. We are less likely to look beyond the label and see what the person is capable of. We need to approach people/teammates/co-workers/bosses, etc with an open mind and with the attitude that everyone has value. We can all learn from the people we come into contact with everyday. They all have a lesson to teach us.

    • Jon M says:

      Agree, Chantal. Any label should be of the non-stick kind but the first choice should be to not label. We need to have an open mind and engage fully to understand. Enjoyed the chat yesterday and thanks for all your contributions! Jon

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