Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549


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How to Succeed at #CrossGenerationalConversation and Other Intergroup Dialogues

Continuing my writing and speaking on intergroup dialogue, cross-generational conversation and succeeding at, rather than avoiding, difficult conversations (Changing the Conversation with Intergroup Dialogue, From Divided to “Brave Spaces” to Healing Dialogue), I relate a story of a Harvard economics professor’s approach to helping his students understand and appreciate the perspectives of people they strongly disagree with. Perspective is one of the critical elements I address in my forthcoming book, You Can’t Google it!

I end this e-tip with guidelines to make the conversations meaningful and satisfying.

Gregory Mankiw, periodically offers a seminar to a dozen freshman each time. (To give a sense of how sought after the seminar is, about 10 times the capacity apply. Mankiw’s goal is diversity: He admits equal numbers of males and females and aims for a political leaning balance.

He runs the seminar like a book club, bypassing the usual first year textbooks (he teaches a course with those too) to read a book a week by an economist aimed at a general audience. The books represent a broad range of views so the students (and professor) can wrestle with the diversity of ideas and challenge their assumptions and preconceptions.

Over several years, Mankiw has observed that early in their college education students are open to (maybe even thirst for) new ideas and new friends. Even if they don’t emerge with changed minds, the outcomes of his seminar approach are long-lasting friendships, tolerance and civility and openness to new ideas from fellow students having opposing ideas.

Opening young people’s minds at this formative time of life is tremendously valuable. And this approach, even if subversively integrated into a more traditional academic curriculum as Mankiw does, could and should be adopted in many institutions in this era of divisiveness and flight to “safe spaces” rather than “brave spaces.” The universities that have variations of Cornell’s Intergroup Dialogue Project, which I have written about, are thinking along similar lines but in much broader terms about the imbalance of privilege and power and involving a wide swath of students beyond one major.

I encourage you as alumni, students and employers to learn more and promote in various forms meaningful intergroup conversations, cross-generational and otherwise. Here are some tips for conducting the conversations successfully.


In Celeste Headlee’s book, We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter, she describes skills and tips for carrying on through difficult conversations, particular with people you don’t agree with.

  • Be curious. Be willing to learn something from someone else – even if you disagree.
  • Resist the impulse to be constantly deciding whether you agree with the other person. Listen to understand, not determine who is right or wrong.
  • Always show respect. Try to empathize or at least understand what they may be going through. View people as fallible human beings.
  • Stick with the conversation. Don’t let your brain go to “fight or flight.” Silence is preferable to changing the subject or joking in a difficult conversation. Just listen if you have nothing constructive to say.
  • End well. Thank the person for sharing their thoughts. You don’t have to have the last word. End in an friendly, gracious way. That lays tone and groundwork for possible future conversations.

Please share your experience and thoughts. What has and has not worked for you? What tips do you have to share?  What would you like to know more about along these lines?


© Phyllis Weiss Haserot 2017.

* The generational chronology for easy reference: Generations are defined by the similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, economic – that existed as the individuals of particular birth cohorts were growing up. Given that premise, the age breakdowns for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are approximately:

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For coaching, training and special programs on inter-generational challenges for and among 4 generations in the workplace and maximizing the potential of young professionals, call or email Phyllis for an exploratory talk or complimentary coaching session at 212-593-1549 or

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