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What NOT to Say Around Younger Colleagues at Work

A career coach and her boomer friends developed "The Code Game" to help them avoid sounding too old at the office

By Beverly Jones

This article first appeared on
In today’s workplace, managers are learning to foster creative thinking by partnering expert professionals aged 45+ with tech- and social media-savvy 20-somethings. But one barrier to multigenerational cooperation is that people of different ages talk in different ways.
That communications gap can have serious consequences for boomers: If you come off as boring or out of date in meetings or the cafeteria you could lose professional credibility, influence and potential opportunities among younger co-workers.
(MORE: What My Young Colleagues Have Taught Me)

Our Talking Can Be Tedious

Recently, I was talking with a group of boomer friends about the sometimes tedious conversational patterns of folks our age. We all confessed to indulging in prolonged accounts of our various aches and pains, for example.

We soon realized that not only do we bore each other with this kind of talk, the chatter is apt to drive Millennials out of the room. 
The Code Game for Boomers

So we invented The Code Game to whisper the appropriate codes to each other and help ourselves avoid annoying “old person talk.” You might want to play it with your work colleagues in their 50s and 60s to curtail the age-related faux pas:
Code Blue (for blue hair) is our signal to break the habit of complaining about sore body parts.
I’m not talking about a serious talk with a dear friend about her health challenges. Rather, the goal is to resist the temptation to mention things like your sore back. Empower your work pal to give you a gentle “Code Blue” reminder if you start ranting about the state of your body.
(MORE: How to Get Along With Younger Co-Workers)
Code Green is a signal I first wanted to use while eavesdropping on the next table at a local bistro, but it can be worth whispering when you’re in the company cafeteria, too.
At the bistro, a prosperous-looking young couple was buying dinner for the man’s mother, a woman in her 60s. Instead of expressing her appreciation, the mom embarrassed her son by going through the menu loudly complaining about the prices. When the waiter took her order, she said, “Well, what I really want is the swordfish, but I’d never let him pay that much, so bring me the pasta.” 
When your office pal once again shares the discovery that prices have gone up since 1984, offer a gentle “Code Green” reminder.
(MORE: Why Today’s Generation Gap Might Be a Good Thing)
Code Golden Harvest was dreamed up by my friend, Paula Miller, who says it drives her crazy when people our age interrupt a conversation about something current with yet another story of what it was like back in the day.
“Golden Harvest,” you may recall, was a wildly popular color for appliances and décor from the 1960s through the '80s. But its time has passed — if it's still in your kitchen, you’re probably sick of the hue. 
That’s why, if you tend to reminisce about the old days when future thinking is what’s needed at the office, let your colleagues know it’s okay for them to nudge you with a Code Golden Harvest.
Code Sparkles is what Merry Foresta, an art museum visionary who works with colleagues of all ages, suggests we use to remind each other to enjoy the moment. The name derives from times when someone decides to eat cake at the office birthday party, but accompanies every bite with a monologue about the calorie count and the evil impact of sweets.
Merry says it’s critically important to stay fully engaged at work and enjoy, as best as you can, what you’re doing at the moment.
Upon reflection, perhaps Code Sparkles says it all. The people who are most able to partner across age and other lines are the ones who stay focused on what’s happening now.
They put aside their complaints and recollections and listen intently.
That’s what I hope to do — and it’s okay if you sometimes remind me.

Beverly Jones is a leadership and transitions coach who runs Clearways Consulting in Washington, D.C., and Rappahannock County, Va. She is the author of "Find Your Happy at Work" and was formerly a lawyer representing energy clients, universities and nonprofits. Read More
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