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 involves working with a highly skilled group of technical consultants, such as myself, yet I couldn’t help but notice that one person’s behaviour toward me is very odd.

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 as well.

Some people, male or female, try to discredit us older folk without knowing anything about us – except our age group. I have an MBA, a Ph.D., and am highly respected by IBM and the client. The person in question, however, seems to see nothing of value in me.

Unfortunately, handling this kind of situation can get tricky. If we demand to be treated decently, or try to explain our background and credentials, we become aggressive and rather ugly.

That kind of scenario would actually support the stereotype bias western society associates with older people – incompetence, lack of information, and inability to change. Our response has to be carefully crafted to discredit the bias in a positive way.

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 a smile 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 too. In many situations, a smile may even cause the person who’s been in the wrong to change their negative approach toward you.

Stay Calm, Cool, and Collected

While you are smiling, you may be so rattled on the inside that you feel you will explode and tell the misinformed person what you think of their biased 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 on to you. If you can stay calm and not react, it will contrast with their behaviour. Your stance will clearly show that any instability is not coming from you.

Thank Them

Be sure to thank the person for 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, saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way about me,” is enough to resolve the situation.

You can also ask if there is anything you can do to show that the person is generalizing, rather than speaking about you. After all, no one should accuse you of something that has nothing to do with you as an individual.

Apologize

Apologize for not speaking loud enough, or for being in the person’s 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.

Going a step further, you could 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, 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 situation where bias is involved, especially if it’s pointed at you, is that it has nothing to do with you.

Biased behaviour is based on generalizations about a group of people. It projects a partial 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 biased aggressor – that they have no control over you.

It’s all good!

How often do you find yourself in a situation of age-related prejudice? What do you do to stand up for yourself? Which tactics have worked, and which haven’t? Please share in the comments below.

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