Gen X Wants Respect

A younger practitioner gives Boomers a piece of his mind.

March 1, 2010

"But you're so young!"

"Wait—you're my son's age."

"I have shoes older than you."

These are some of the comments I've received during my three years managing a real estate office in Washington, D.C.

Who would say such things? Unfortunately, my fellow real estate professionals. Though my colleagues don't intend to be demeaning, to me their words reflect a generational gulf that threatens both collegiality and our ability to function cooperatively.

While I have great respect for people who come from a different generation than mine, I feel strongly that we need to better understand each other's points of view if we're going to work together productively. So as a starting point for improved professional relations, let me explain where I'm coming from.

I'm a 35-year-old managing associate-broker who leads an office of more than 50 sales agents, ranging in age from 24 to 92 (that's right, 92). My age places me in the camp of Generation X, along with an estimated 41 million other Americans born between 1965 to 1976. Though many of the associates I manage are of my own generation and some are in Generation Y, the bulk of them belong to a generation older than my own.

A Cultural Divide?

Every day I observe important differences in how I and other Gen X practitioners operate compared with baby boomers and the so-called civic generation—people born before 1946. For example, like many Gen X sales associates and managers, I tend to be more aggressive in manner and more eager to go against previous ways of doing things than my older colleagues. I do first and ask questions later, I have little patience for the way things "used to be," and I constantly push myself to be great at what I do. I don't want to mimic anyone else's style.

For these reasons, I've been accused at times of "not playing well in the sandbox" or of being "arrogant." These words hurt and couldn't be farther from the truth. I'm just coming from a different place: I didn't experience the 1980s from a desk in a real estate office. I share the view with many in my generation that real estate is no longer a cottage industry. Gen Xers don't want to go on caravan tours or participate in trunk shows full of jewelry after a sales meeting.

We see real estate as a fast-paced, cutting-edge, multibillion-dollar industry, and we're determined to run our businesses in a way that maximizes the benefits of technology and electronic information-sharing. That means embracing the social networking paradigm. It means our circle of influence goes hand-in-hand with our online social capital.

For us, sending "Just Listed" and "Just Sold" postcards via snail mail is a waste of time and money. Instead, we ask: "How many friends are we connecting with on Facebook?" or "Am I making significant relationships with people following me on Twitter?"

'Virtual' Marketing Is Legit

Some in older age groups believe that the importance Gen X and Gen Y place on speed and instantaneous communication implies nothing more than impatience or an unwillingness to spend time on things that matter. That's simply not true. We're merely working in a sphere that's different than what you experienced, but nevertheless it's working for us. We are where our clients are—on the Web—participating in conversations in the way they want to have them. And there's no reason older practitioners can't be there too. As my boss reminds me, as long as you can "monetize" an activity, go for it.

Gen Xers and boomers need to start talking with each other instead of at each other to build a higher functioning, multigenerational real estate industry that's better equipped to serve all generations of customers. Now I've said my part, and I'm ready to listen.

Darrin Friedman is the strategic brand specialist for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices The Preferred Realty in Pittsburgh.