Chris DeSantis, author of Why I Find You Irritating: Navigating Generational Friction at Work, has some provocative thoughts on inter-generational differences and their affect on communication, especially at work. DeSantis is an independent organizational behavior practitioner, speaker, podcaster, and author, with over thirty-five years of experience working with clients in professional services firms both domestically and internationally. Over the past fifteen years, he has been invited to speak on generational issues in the workplace at hundreds of the leading U.S. law and accounting firms, as well as many of the major insurance and pharma companies. You can learn more at

How would you classify your latest work, what inspired its inception?

I would say this is both a plea for greater understanding and appreciation of discernible differences, in this case generational differences, and a “how to” book of some best practices for overcoming them at work.

I have been working with professional service firms, including many people who started their careers there more than 30 years ago. Sometime around 18 years ago, the newest crop of young employees were distinctly different in terms of how they interacted, how they wanted to be managed, and how vocal they were when their needs were not being met. I started to read books and published research about generational differences and that sparked an ongoing passion to explore the subject.

How long did it take you to complete?  

The book took 5 years from start to finish, but it was more fits and starts than it was a continuous process. I kept fiddling with the content and the structure and the final published version was probably the third or fourth iteration of the book. It changed quite a bit over time, mainly because I kept changing as I learned more. While difficult to do, I gave myself permission to discard or edit what I had previously written. I reluctantly learned to understand and appreciate an editor’s phrase of being willing to “kill your babies.”

Who are some of your top 5 authors or writers you look up to & admire?

This is a very difficult question because I find so many writers to be admirable simply by virtue of the fact they have written a book worth reading. I’ll answer it with my current batch of favorite authors whose books I’ve read in the past year.

Leonard Mlodinow “Emotional”

Pascal Boyer “Minds Make Societies”

Oliver Burkeman “Four Thousand Weeks”

Scott E. Page “The Diversity Bonus”

Annette Lareau “Unequal Childhoods”

Why do you write?

I write to clarify and bring structure to my thoughts, although I have always found writing to be a challenging process. While just putting words on the page isn’t daunting, it’s turning them into something insightful and interesting that is. The authors I mentioned previously do this with such finesse, while I find it, in a word, hard. The up side of this struggle is it helps in the articulation of my thoughts when speaking with others about topics in which I am conversant. Writing is like a silent companion who, rather than judging you, reflects back to you what you’ve said and quietly urges you on to clarify and clearly explain what you are attempting to make others understang.

What’s the biggest take away you want your readers to come away with after reading your latest work?  

Generational differences, to the extent they exist, are further amplified by our “perceptions” of others based on what we have anecdotally read, heard, and seen, resulting in the very human trait of generalizing about individuals within any group identified by age. Once we start to believe this is true of individuals within a given group, we tend to treat them in a way where these perceptions become self-fulfilling. It is the Pygmalion affect at its best, and conversely, the Golem affect at its worst.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read?

I liken this question to my view of the Oscars. We award one film each year as the best movie of the year when, in fact, there are many “best films ever” made each year. Books, like movies, can be the best in many categories — fiction, nonfiction, fantasy, biography, history, science fiction, to name a few — and so because of that this question doesn’t resonate with me. The better question for me is what book still reverberates in my mind, having left a deep impression. What comes to mind in this moment is Ursula K. le Guin’s book “The Left Hand of Darkness.” I read it 35 years ago. Interestingly, its theme of the fluidity of sexual identity and our judgment of it is particularly relevant in today’s world.

When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?  

I have always, always loved books and reading, but to be frank, I never imagined myself to be a writer. I thought it was an art and craft well beyond my abilities. Good writing to me is like fine art, it’s something I admire but could never create. It wasn’t until I had read almost everything of note on the generational topic that I decided there were important things that were not addressed, things that I knew something about. It was then, five years ago, I decided to give it a go. I may not be Hemingway, but if I can help people get along better as a consequence of reading my book, then that’s good enough for me.

If you could meet, have dinner, have a drink with anyone (writer/non-writer) (dead or alive) who would it be?  

 This is an interesting question, because I look at it not from my perspective, in that I would be enthralled by having this person’s company, but rather from theirs. Why would this person wish to break bread with me? I don’t mean to be a killjoy but I’ve always felt the best conversations are the ones where both parties have something of note to share with each other. It is the difference between a dialog and a soliloquy. Being with a great writer, living or dead, would likely be more the latter for them. So, having said this, I would choose Socrates. As the originator of the Socratic approach, he would be engaged in the process as much as I would. And who wouldn’t want to be interviewed by the likely to be voted “best interviewer who ever lived?”

What’s next for you?  

With the help of my book, I hope to continue sharing my message with as many audiences as can benefit by hearing it. Beyond that, I plan to write a second book based on one of the key chapters in this book, “Embracing Lopsidedness.”  I am of the belief that because the world of work is ever more complex, teams will be more and more important. Individuals on those teams will be better equipped to contribute to the team if they have complementary skills, rather than redundant ones. It is the embrace of diversity in all its forms. My next book will explore what it will take to make that a reality.




End of Interview