How old are you again?

Last night, I went with a friend of mine to a wedding of two of her students. The wedding was beautiful and they had a lovely reception that followed. Instead of assigned seating, they let you choose your tables and we made our way to a spot in the corner that looked cozy and were soon joined by some people that were more than happy to share their life stories with us.

I should mention that the bride and groom were both in their mid-40s or -50s, so, naturally, all of their friends (and thus, the people at my table) were a similar age. This wasn’t really an issue (after all, I deal with employees from age 20 to 80 on a daily basis) until the end of our dinner.

While in a discussion about healthcare, I made a comment to the  particularly drunk man sitting on my left in slight disagreement with what he had said. He paused, looked at me, grinned and then said to me, “Now, how old are you again?” Of course I knew what he was getting at and, sure enough, when I told him, he said, “Well, I’m more than twice your age and let me tell you, I know what I’m talking about” before disregarding my point and stepping back onto his soapbox.

Gosh, I love closeminded people!

There was no better time for me to stumble upon this article (thanks to my Twitter feed) from the Wall Street Journal that talks about how younger employees are mentoring senior staff. As companies are figuring out how social media plays out in a business arena, they call in the experts – the 20-something kids who know what they’re doing on a computer. And I’m no stranger to this since that very phenomenon is going on now in my company.

For people like my drunkard, age trumps knowledge and thought. They feel like they’ve lived longer, so they’ve had more “life experience”, they’ve seen more and, therefore, they know more. It’s incredibly frustrating (not to mention obnoxious). Recognizing the value of diversity of viewpoints includes listening to what people of all ages have to say. I’ve talked to several high level people in my office about interns and junior staff and every conversation is pretty similar: these “bottom of the food chain people” make such important contributions to a project that they make the end product so much better in the eyes of staff and clients alike.

Having been discounted because of my age many times at work, what I’ve found to be the best course of action is speaking up and showing (not just telling) what you can do. People start to take note, even if it’s slowly at first, and will eventually respond. Asking to be on projects to lend your knowledge as well as learn from others is a good tactic.

Until then, just take solace in the old adage, “age before beauty”…


3 responses to “How old are you again?

  1. My brain shuts off when people say they are right because they are older. At that point all rational conversation stops and their true colors shine.

  2. I teach technology to people of all ages, and the older someone gets — the harder it is for me to break through and get them to listen to new ideas.

    Kind of sad.

  3. @Jon – I get the feeling everyone’s in the same boat on this one. Some people are open, but some people confuse age with knowledge. You just gotta walk away – shutting down your brain works too.

    @Dick – I hear you on that one. Technology adds a whole other layer to it. Do you give up or do you keep plugging away at trying to convince them?

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