Sherri Petro to Address Coronado Roundtable on Generational Differences

Written by Sherri Petro on . Posted in Blog

Roundtable on Generational DifferencesGuest Post By: Jim Kelly

People are living and working longer resulting in larger age differences between individuals and groups that interact in the workplace and elsewhere. The way that we communicate and the values that motivate us may be greatly influenced by when we were born. Understanding how these values and methods of communications differ between generations is a critical factor in achieving more effective communications and interactions.

Sherri Petro, featured speaker at the Friday, April 24th meeting of the Coronado Roundtable, is an expert facilitator who has presented hundreds of seminars on management, generational communications, teamwork and leadership. She is President of VPI Strategies, a San Diego-based consulting firm and she has published dozens of articles on these subjects. She has taught and coached hundreds of executives how to improve cross-generational communication and her clients have included Fortune 500 companies and state and local government agencies. She is the most popular blogger on “Managing Americans”, a leadership training website with over 330,000 followers.

Ms. Petro graduated magna cum laude with a BA degree in Psychology from Youngstown State University and earned an MBA from Pepperdine University.

The Coronado Roundtable presents prominent and knowledgeable speakers on a variety of topics at its monthly meetings on the fourth Friday of every month except December in the Winn Room of the Coronado Library at 10:00 am. The public is cordially invited. Come early, join us for coffee and enjoy an informative and valuable program.

How to Have a Healthy Conversation

Written by Sherri Petro on . Posted in Blog

With the well-warranted nationHealthy Conversational conversation on good health, it’s time we talk about another area where health is important – our own conversations.

  • We’ve got obesity on the national scale and bloated conversations in the workplace.
  • We’ve got fillers in our food and fillers in our conversations.
  • We seek workarounds to what we know contributes to good health (exercise, anyone?) like we seek shortcuts when we converse and omit details required for accomplishing good work.
  • We avoid what might not taste good but could be good for us like we avoid tough conversations that might not feel good but are good for us.

How can we have healthier conversations?

1.Do you believe people are in the cars on the way to or from work right now plotting your conversational demise?  They are waiting for you to say the wrong thing so they can jump down your throat, correct you in front of others or make fun of your word choice?  I gather there may indeed be people who choose those behaviors, but they are just one part of a diverse population.  I call them “mean” and if you listen to Taylor Swift, I‘d say she agrees!  Let’s not give them our power. They are a possibility, not a probability. Let’s start with the premise that people do genuinely want to connect.  People are not trying to be difficult, they are trying to understand.

2. Get centered and be on point. Dr. Stephen Covey’s timeless wisdom in habit two belongs here. Begin with the end in mind™.  What’s the purpose of our conversation?  What are we opening our mouths for?  Is it to seek validation? To offer a different opinion?  To make a point?  If it has no point, perhaps we should warn people what we are processing out loud! Then they can decide if they want to stick around and hear our brains work it out.  Remove those filler statements, too. “Umm, you know what I mean.” They stop us from having efficient conversations.

3. Commit to learn from whomever we are conversing with. That’s right. Listen for the lesson.  That means we respect and value differences because that gives conversation meaning. It also means they even if we have spoken to this person countless times in the past, we look for what’s different and not ASSUME we know what they will say. Arrogant of us to believe, even if we have seen patterns in the past, that we know what they will say next.  Thinking we know what people are going to say is just one block to better listening. We rehearse, daydream, judge, derail, compare, advise, fix, one-up, interrupt and debate, too!


Click to read more from Sherri about how we can have healthier conversations on ManagingAmericans.

Sherri Petro, President and Chief Strategy Officer of VPI Strategies, represents VPI Strategies on the Expert Panel for Managing Americans. is a management blog with more than 300,000 monthly readers. Sherri contributes monthly to the Workplace Communication Skills Blog and is one of the most highly read columnists.

Let’s Talk “Happy”

Written by Sherri Petro on . Posted in Blog

Whether you hum along with Pharrell’s mega hit from Despicable Me 2, have watched Shawn Achor’s entertaining Ted Talk on the concept or are just tired of all the world negativity, being happy is taking center stage. In fact, terrific generational researcher Neil Howe authored For Millennials, Happy is the New Edgy in a May Forbes article.

We’re starting emails with “Happy (insert day here)”. We’re investigating the possibility of truly being happy at work, the value employee happiness brings to our organizations and the impact of being positive, in general. What’s with this happiness thing?

What does it mean?

Merriam Webster says that happy is feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc; showing or causing feelings of pleasure and enjoyment; or being pleased or glad about a particular situation, event, etc. Other definitions go further – favored by luck or fortune or enthusiastic about something to the point of obsession. Bottom Line – most official definitions appear to allude to being happy as situational.

Hmm, then should we expect to be happy at work?

As I’ve investigated generational differences and similarities, one of the findings has been that our young professionals (Millennials) expect to be happy at work. This is unlike other generations who hoped they’d be happy at work! It was NOT an expectation. And for Traditionalists and Boomers, being happy even bordered on being an exception. “Work is work. Work is not FUN.” Whether it is the rise of the Google-like campus, their upbringing or the impact of their external environment, the expectation of being happy is a Millennial criteria for taking a job.

How do the other generations feel about being happy?

One of my Traditionalist colleagues shares his idea that happiness on the job is earned over the years. A Baby Boomer colleague has a different viewpoint. Happiness is really a combination of fleeting moments of pleasure and should not be a constant expectation. He subscribes to the first line in M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled – “Life is hard.” It is unrealistic to believe you can be happy all the time at work. Gen X is pragmatic about being happy. They believe they create their own happiness and don’t depend on the job to create it. As one Gen X MBA candidate shared, “I’d rather be happy and fulfilled then miserable and ‘successful.’”

Should we expand our thought process?

Dan Baker and Cameron Stuath in their book, What Happy People Know, share that happiness is a way of life….nothing less than cherishing every day. Moreover, they believe it can be learned. It’s a mental shift. Pharrell seems to be saying the same thing. He uses room without a roof, to express the meaning there is no limitation to how far you can take yourself in life. The idea that you control your own happiness can be radical but nearly every spiritual book tells us the same thing, we create what we believe.

Nice thought but what’s that got to do with business? Our brains when positive are 31% more productive than negative, neutral or stressed. AHA, positivity breeds productivity! And productivity creates results.

What can we do to promote positivity ourselves?

  • Express gratitude
  • Increase your endorphins with exercise
  • Meditate to find and keep your center when work gets tough
  • Promote random acts of kindness

What can the organization do?

Let’s not create an artificial “cult of nice.” Given the range of human emotions that we experience at work, that would be inauthentic!  Here are three activities that we at VPI Strategies encourage and have proven positive results. (No pun intended)

  1. Ask about what makes employees happy. As the manager, go one-step further and tell your employees what makes you happy at work. Clarity, people, clarity! Our workplaces are steeped in miscommunication and misunderstandings. Use a discussion about happiness to create clarity about roles and rules.
  2. Positivity has an impact on the triple bottom line. If we live to the often quoted “People are our most important asset,” let’s find out what makes them happy and productive in our company surveys. This has an added tangible benefit to companies willing to make the investment. Disney and the McKinsey & Company explored the connection between companies that are good at both making their customers happy and making their employees happy. The secret to delighting customers is to put employees first. Don’t ask, however, if you don’t really want to know or plan on doing something about what you hear.
  3. Promote the use of positive language by reframing the negative. Let’s not talk about what we can’t do. Let’s talk about what we can do. Make errors learning opportunities. Debrief with what went well before you address the negative or what needs to be changed. It creates less defensiveness and more generative conversation. Practice Appreciate Inquiry as a consulting style. It unleashes positivity.

We can choose to see “Happy” as one of the seven dwarfs or we can choose to see “Happy” as an eye-opening, positive discussion which gives us more data points on our way to success. So, yes, let’s talk “Happy” and see where it takes us.

Grow Up to be Big and Strong: Define Your Strengths

Written by Sherri Petro on . Posted in Blog

Define Your StrengthsWhen a parent wanted you to eat your vegetables, were you told something like, “Don’t you want to grow up big and strong?”  Mine certainly did. We put a lot of emphasis on being strong — and for good reason.  Being strong is as old as the biblical Samson.  Being strong indicates we are healthy.  Being strong means we have a shot at being Superman, Superwoman or simply super.  Being strong while communicating says we get our point across.

Donald O. Clifton, a pioneer researcher who spent four decades studying strengths, and the honored father of Strengths-Based psychology, created the Clifton StrengthsFinder as leader of a group of Gallup scientists.  Tom Rath documents the next generation of the concept and accompanying assessment in his blockbuster book, StrengthsFinder 2.0.  As a huge advocate of working from strengths, one of my favorite parts (and there are quite a few!) is the notion that talent x investment = strengths.

Ah, so becoming strong and using our strengths well requires effort.  We need to make an investment.  Yes, we are born with innate abilities.  And they need to be honed and seasoned if we want to keep them up there in the strengths department.  If we intentionally exercise our muscles, don’t we get better?  Our communication strengths are like that too.  They need to be exercised.

Hmm, does that mean you should practice your listening skills 15 minutes a day with progressive reps until failure?  Watch your nonverbal behavior in a mirror mounted at your desk during random conversations?  Grunt when you have to concentrate really hard to get what someone is trying to tell you?  Though those are fun visuals to imagine, we’re on a different wavelength here.

Click to read three things we can do to grow up (communicatively speaking) & make the most of our strengths on ManagingAmericans.

Sherri Petro, President and Chief Strategy Officer of VPI Strategies, represents VPI Strategies on the Expert Panel for Managing Americans. is a management blog with more than 300,000 monthly readers. Sherri contributes monthly to the Workplace Communication Skills Blog and is one of the most highly read columnists.

Generational Gem #1 – For Millennials, Is Telling Yelling?

Written by Sherri Petro on . Posted in Blog

Millennials, is Telling YellingAccording to Merriam Webster, there is a difference between telling and yelling. According to Millennials in my generational workshops, not so much. What’s this about?

Merriam Webster defines the two as:

  • Tell – to inform, say, divulge, reveal, narrate, order or direct.
  • Yell – to say (something) very loudly especially because you are angry, surprised, or are trying to get someone’s attention; to make a sudden, loud cry.

The two acts are differentiated by volume and intention.

How is it then that Millennials perceive the simple act of telling as yelling when the volume is not loud? I offer four things related to backlash from the self-esteem movement. Millennials are not used to yelling and they are misinterpreting telling as yelling. They may not have even been exposed to real yelling. They are also not used to being told what to do. Why?

QUALIFIER – Remember, generational information is an input not the end-all.

  1. MINI-ADULTS – Baby Boomers treated children as mini-adults with opinions that mattered. Traditionalists followed more traditional parent/child roles where children did not necessarily have voices that mattered. In fact, they said things like “Children are seen — and not heard”, a reflection from their own childhood. Boomers have taken the concept of being heard to heart in so many ways (two hour meeting where everyone has a chance to talk sound familiar to anyone?). When in conflict, Boomers might say “We’ll talk this out civilly – like adults do” versus saying emphatically “Because I said so!”
  2. EXPECTATIONS – Baby Boomers asked Millennials questions versus telling them what to do and gave them the freedom to answer with anything. Millennials may not be used to being directed. The simple act of telling can be alien since they expect to be asked – even if they don’t have an answer. Being told what to do can sound like yelling since it impedes on their freedom and may direct them to do something they don’t want to do.
  3. SPECIAL – We Baby Boomers wanted our children to feel special — and they do. We set this table – and yelling wasn’t on it. What’s this about? Not feeling special ourselves in larger families with the more stoic Traditionalists parents, who we did NOT want to be like, we chose a different parenting style. Traditionalists took roles learned from their parents very seriously. “I’m your parent, not your friend!” Yelling is an option. Baby Boomers parented, “I can be your parent and your friend.” Yelling as an option? Not so much. As a generalization, friends tend not to rage to each other. Rant, maybe? Rage, no.
  4. LIFE IS HARD – Baby Boomers, though with the best of intentions, removed consequences for their Millennials. We said that our children could do and be anything. We did not always follow that paraphrase with “….it’s going to be hard and you’re going to have to work for it.” And work can be hard places where yelling may exist since we are working with human emotions – the full range of which can be delivered in loud voices!

Make sense? Agree or disagree? There’s more but I’ll stop here and start the discussion.