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The do's and don'ts of trying to act younger

As older employees are increasingly surrounded by younger ones, they risk displaying telltale signs of their age that can lead to unfair stereotyping. It's a tricky balancing act: You don't want to come across as an oldster, or try too hard to appear young.

Like these tips? Read Wallace Immen's full story





ACTING YOUNGER

Don't

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  • Lead with your experience. Emphasizing how long you've been around and can actually be threatening to younger bosses, because you're pointing up a strength that you have that they don't have. "What have I done for you lately" should be the focus.
  • Leave long messages. The texting, twittering generation wants to get in and out in as few words as possible. Keep voice or e-mails to three sentences max, otherwise you'll be thought of as someone who is inefficient and time wasting.
  • Talk loudly. Younger people have learned to speak quietly when on their phones in public, knowing technology will amplify what they're saying.
  • Act like mom or dad. Being the one who regularly brings in cookies and organizes the office parties can backfire because it can make younger employees see you as at least as old as their parents.

Do

  • Be all thumbs. Hunting and pecking with your index finger on a smart phone or BlackBerry is a sign of fogeyism for a generation that uses their thumbs to punch in text.
  • Learn their style. The Twitter generation may prefer to communicate in a different way from what you are used to. Ask: Do they prefer daily updates, weekly meetings or written status reports?
  • Ask before telling. Before you decide to "coach" a younger boss based on your experience, make sure he or she is open to your suggestions. A patronizing attitude can be the kiss of death.
  • Ditch the Rolex. Wristwatches have become passé anachronisms for a generation that looks to their phone to tell them the time.


LOOKING YOUNGER

Don't

  • Slavishly follow fashion. An ultra-close fit will highlight the fact you are carrying some extra weight. A looser version of what you see in the fashion magazines will work better.
  • Be a mini-them. Don't try to dress like your manager; look like an up-to-date version of yourself.
  • Make a spectacle of yourself. Eyeglass frame styles and hairdos date you; get a current look that makes the best of your features.

Do

  • Avoid clashes. Wear colours in harmony with your skin tone and hair. A slight adjustment to the level and tone of the colours you wear can make you instantly appear years younger.
  • Watch your diet and exercise. A paunch highlights a sagging body.
  • Stand and sit tall. Stooping over or slouching in a chair are tipoffs you may not have the energy necessary to keep pace with your younger manager.


SOUNDING YOUNGER

Don't

  • Be a curmudgeon. Nothing says you're not keeping up like saying "I remember when," or "We used to do it differently."
  • Lie about your age. Trying to shave years off your birth date is undignified and inauthentic, and makes the point that you are worried about generational differences.
  • Try to fake it. They can tell, and they don't expect you to be their age.
  • Close off options. Don't dismiss an idea out of hand because it was tried before and didn't work; conditions might have changed.

Do

  • Know the slang. You can show that you are aware of the culture of youth without trying to play the games or using in-phrases that may have already gone out of favour.
  • Show enthusiasm. Let your managers know about training and other development efforts you are pursuing. This will let them know that you are staying professionally current.
  • Keep up with technology. You don't have to master everything, but understand how gadgetry can be used effectively.
  • Have honest discussions. Be open to innovation and change and creative ideas - listen first before coming to conclusions.

Like these tips? Read Wallace Immen's full story

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About the Author

Wallace Immen is an award-winning staff writer for The Globe and Mail whose stories about workplace trends and career advice, as well as about cruising and travel destinations around the world appear regularly in print and on-line. He has worn many hats in his career with the Globe, including science writer, medical writer and columnist, urban affairs reporter and travel writer. More

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