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Leaders, Use These Tips to Stay Relevant With Younger Workers


How do you stay current with popular culture references and changes in language? If you’re in a leadership position and have accumulated more than four decades of life experience, chances are that your younger team members might from time to time confound you with an unfamiliar phrase.

Take for example, the term “struggle bus” which gained in popularity with high school and college students around 2009. When I wrote about ideas for what to do when you’re riding the struggle bus, my husband read the post and chuckled. He hadn’t heard that phrase before. And he brought up a good point: if “struggle bus” became popular with college students about five years ago, some of those folks are now young professionals in the workplace, so that phrase may show up in the workplace.

Yes, the ever-changing popular culture keeps us on our toes.

Here are some ways to stay current and relevant to your team members:

Read the dictionary. But not the one your high school lit teacher kept on hand. Instead, turn to the always hilarious, often crude, online resource for current-day terminology: the Urban Dictionary. Check out their word-of-the-day, which is very current. For example, the entry from Nov. 4 was “Alex from Target,” which happened mere days before that entry. (What, you don’t know the “Alex from Target” reference?  Better read the dictionary!)

Pay attention in public places. My colleague Victorio Milian points out that this dynamic type of conversation is happening all around us in places like Starbucks, the line at the movie theater and other retail establishments. Open your ears, listen, take mental notes. You never know what might crop up. Then, when you hear something you don’t understand, consult The Dictionary. Or, you can always . . .

Ask a teenager. Now, this one isn’t really fair, because let’s face it, some of us don’t have immediate access to teens.  But if you live in a house with adolescents, they are an excellent source of stuff that’s on trend. Of course, that’s assuming you can actually get them to talk to you. My experience shows that it’s easier to chat with your kids’ friends then your actual offspring, so if you don’t have teens in the house, don’t worry – just strike up a conversation with the neighbor’s kids for a few minutes while you’re out on a walk.

Take a break from your usual haunts. Sharlyn Lauby, who writes the blog The HR Bartender, told me that she is intentional about learning new things to stay up to date. I believe it—she is always sharing new apps, technologies, etc. on her blog and Facebook page. Sharlyn looks for books, TV shows and blogs that she normally wouldn’t frequent. And she looks at both business- and leisure-related sites to help widen her perspective.

Take a younger colleague to lunch. Not only does this give you the chance to dish out a few words of wisdom, you’ll be surprised at what your young friend can teach you. Mentoring goes both ways these days.

Get gusty and ask. That’s right, sometimes you just need to buck up and say, “I’m not familiar with that phrase” or “Will you show my how to ______?” Sure, maybe they’ll think you’re fusty and out of touch. Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll be glad you care enough to learn the latest and relate to their issues.

There’s nothing quite as cringe-inducing as a work team leader who’s trying to be hip and then uses an outdated term. Don’t be that person. Stay in touch and up to date. Your team will thank you for it. Or at least they won’t roll their eyes when you open your mouth.

 Jennifer Miller is a writer and leadership development consultant. This article originally appeared on her blog The People Equation.

(Image via rangizzz/

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