We have to nip this age bias thing!
I’m back in Ottawa, Canada, for a few months doing a technical consulting project. IBM, my usual client, called me in Thailand and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. So out of retirement I came.
The project has me working with a highly skilled group of technical consultants, such as myself. One person is behaving very odd and it doesn’t make sense. After way too much analysis, I had to conclude that it’s because I’m older. I had a chat with a friend who does the same technology work I do, and she’s seen this happening. Some people, male or female, try to discredit us without knowing anything about us, other than we are old. I have an MBA, a Ph.D. and am highly respected by IBM and the client. This person has no idea about me, other than the way I look.
Handling this can get tricky. If we demand to be treated decently, or try to explain our background and credentials, we become aggressive and rather ugly. This actually supports the stereotype bias people have about older people being incompetent, uninformed and unable to change. Our response has to be done rather carefully to discredit the bias.
Here are 5 ways to deal with age bias, without losing your self-respect.
- Smile– It does sounds crazy to smile when you are being insulted. But this will lighten the situation for those around you, who are concerned about how you will react. When we can project a pleasant demeanor, showing that we are welcoming and attentive, it relaxes those around us. They realize that we are not threatening nor aggressive. Smiling makes others smile. This may even cause the person ignoring or somehow disrespecting you to change their negative approach.
- Stay calm, cool and collected.While you are smiling you may be so rattled inside you feel you will explode and tell this person what you think of their bias nonsense. But don’t. They want to rattle you to prove their theory of your incompetence or whatever bias they are holding on to. Realize that it isn’t personal, it isn’t even about you. They are stuck in some sad stereotype and projecting it to you. If you can stay calm and not react, it will contrast with their behaviour. This will clearly show that any instability is not coming from you.
- Thank themfor their critique, analysis, observation or whatever point they are trying to make. Outwardly acknowledging their insults and disrespect brings their bias front and centre. Often by saying, I’m sorry you feel that way about me,” is enough to resolve the situation. You can also ask if there anything you can do to show that he is generalizing and not speaking about you. This clearly telling the person, and others listening, that they know nothing about you, and shouldn’t be accusing you of something that has nothing to do with you.
- Apologize for not speaking loud enough, or for being in their way, when they ignore you in front of others.This is another way to call them out and put their bias in the open. If they continue to treat you with disrespect after you have apologized, they will be seen as the problem, especially if they don’t acknowledge and change their behaviour. You could even ask if you should speak louder, if they are hard of hearing, or if you need to repeat something because they need more time to process what you are saying. And remember, to say it all with a smile and a pleasant demeanour.
- Feel sorry for them. What a sad life this person must lead if they are ignoring and discrediting such a huge segment of the population. Yes, feel sorry for them and move on.
The most important thing to remember in any bias situation, especially if it’s pointed at you, is that it has nothing to do with you. Bias behaviour is based on generalizations about a group of people. It projects a bias belief onto anyone with the outward characteristics that fit a stereotype. Whether it’s age, skin colour, clothing or hairstyle, or an obvious disability, it’s a belief that has nothing to do with any individual.
By standing up for yourself, and keeping your self-respect, you are clearly showing the world and the bias aggressor, that they can take their bias, and shove it up where the sun don’t shine.
It’s all good!