Negotiation training often focuses on bridging gaps between negotiators with different styles, backgrounds, or objectives, but what about overcoming generational barriers while negotiating? Generational differences need not stymie efforts at the bargaining table. In this segment from “Dear Negotiation Coach,” from Negotiation Briefings, we explore how to overcome cultural differences in communication with members of the Millennial generation.
A Question About Negotiating:
Dear Negotiation Coach,
Over the past few years, employees who have joined my firm directly from undergraduate and graduate programs have seemed to me like creatures from a different world. In particular, they don’t expect to have to struggle to get ahead, and they don’t take criticism well. How can I negotiate with them in a way that will be effective, while keeping them happy and me sane?
ANSWER: As compared with the baby boomers or the Generation Xers who followed, many members of the Millennial Generation—adults born after 1981 who have been entering the workforce since 2000—seem to approach work life with a sense of entitlement, a craving for praise, and an expectation that they will ascend the organizational ladder quickly.
More-seasoned supervisors are sometimes taken off-guard by these young upstarts. For example, efforts by law firms to slow the attrition rates of young associates by raising base pay and increasing bonuses have had little impact, Alex Williams of the New York Times reports. In response, some firms have unveiled new approaches to keeping Millennials satisfied. These range from “happiness committees” that offer candy apples and milkshakes to concerted efforts by partners to thank and commend associates for their hard work.
Negotiating with Millennials can be challenging, but keep in mind that this generation of workers is a highly motivated, creative, and fast-thinking group. The key to dealing with them is to understand that they’ve been raised to expect a workplace that is worker-focused, transparent, and collaborative. In particular, aim to do the following three things when negotiating with Millennials in your organization:
Educate yourself about generational differences and trends.
Though it’s safe to assume that most employees would prefer more money and benefits rather than less, many Millennials prioritize their interests differently. For example, they may be more likely to value autonomy and flexibility in the workplace than their predecessors. While inwardly respectful of experience, Millennials may not defer immediately to authority and may respond more favorably to a less-formal workplace. Before making assumptions about their interests, take time to inquire about what matters most to your younger staffers.
Consistent with research extolling the value of individual participation in decision-making processes, Millennials will be more inclined to respond cooperatively to decisions, even unfavorable ones, if they’ve been consulted as part of a transparent process. Raised to believe that their views matter, they respond negatively to decisions made without broad consultation. Thus, when negotiating with them, focus on being open and clear in your communications. To bolster the legitimacy of your decisions and convey the respect that Millennials require, take time to describe the reasoning behind your thinking.
Address problems jointly.
When negotiating with Millennials, stress the value of working together to find solutions to tough problems. In addition to appealing to Millennials’ desire for inclusion and autonomy, this approach may generate options you wouldn’t have come up with on your own (for more information on how to mediate a dispute, see also
Employee Mediation Techniques – Resolve Disputes and Manage Conflict with These Mediation Techniques).
By taking the time to learn Millennials’ interests, increase transparency, and include them in the problem-solving process, you will increase productivity, prolong job satisfaction, and create better intergenerational business relationships (for more information on bridging the divide between different cultures or worldviews, see also
How to Resolve Cultural Conflict: Overcoming Cultural Barriers at the Negotiation Table).
What negotiating methods have helped you? Have we missed any? Share your tips in the comments.
Related Business Negotiations Article: Best Negotiation Examples: Integrative Negotiations, Value Creation, and Creativity at the Bargaining Table – How to create value at the negotiation table using integrative bargaining strategies.
Overcoming Cultural Barriers to a Negotiated Agreement: Negotiation Ethics and International Negotiations – How understandings of ethics and negotiation tactics differ across cultural backgrounds and how to reconcile these differences.
Examples of Negotiation in Real Life: Overcoming Cultural Barriers at the Negotiation Table in International Negotiations – How to bridge the divide between negotiating counterparts from different cultural backgrounds.
Adapted from “Managing the Millennial Generation,” by Robert C. Bordone (professor, Harvard Law School) and Matthew J. Smith (lecturer, Harvard Law School), first published in the Negotiation Briefings newsletter.
Originally published in August 2010.