5 ways to deal with age bias and keep your self-respect

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

This article was originally published by Sixty and Me.  Click here for a link to this article.

3 thoughts on “5 ways to deal with age bias and keep your self-respect

  1. Great article and perspective! Thanks for the guidance on how to deal with people who display small-mindedness and/or externalizing their mis-directed anger or low self esteem through bullying others in the corporate world. Ageism is real from all spectrums -older ppl not respecting millennials to us not being respected for our maturity- aka wisdom!
    You Rock wise woman!! 🙂

  2. This article really hit home! I’m retired now but I used to work at a newspaper … great environment, creative, supportive and a little eccentric – until, the 30 somethings came in and started as managers. They had zero people skills, were condescending and dismissive. I had a great track record in my position and one day this idiot manager came over and asked me if I was going to send out a page … hmmm, after 20 in the job of doing exactly that! Did he think I suddenly had a lobotomy! My older brother, who has been in computers since god was a boy, had the same reaction in his consulting job as a programmer when he was lead on a huge government project. He had to constantly justify every little thing with team members who had a few years’ experience. Eventually, he quit the project and later learned that those team members finally discovered their own inadequacy and he was begged to come back and straighten it out. He refused because he didn’t need to work in a toxic, negative environment and knew the resentment meter would be high. I’ve really enjoyed reading some of your articles about your life in Koh Lanta. It’s funny how you stumble onto blogs online … I’ve been thinking about moving abroad but I know that the grass isn’t always greener. You sound like you’ve found yourself and how lucky! take care

    1. Hi Wanda – Thanks for sharing your story and that of your brother. I’ve just finished a 5 month project here in Canada working with IBM and the federal government. I feel that bullying is in the air and acceptable now. I’m not sure if it’s only age now – it seems to be growing to include religion and skin colour. Shameful that things are deteriorating. I do love being in Koh Lanta. I’m not Thai, and not trying to be. I’ve just found a place that lets me get away from the brutal cold of the Canadian winters, cheaper to live and an easy lifestyle. A remote island means everything is close by. You take care and keep exploring your possibilities.

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