I ascended the ranks of my workplace quickly and became a director in just a few years. I’m in my early 30s but my peers are older and have been in the industry for decades. They don’t take me seriously and are quick to dismiss my ideas even though I have a proven track record. How can I get them to consider me as an equal?
The First Answer
Heather Faire, president, Faire Practices, expat, Atlanta
Congratulations on your career success. Clearly someone at work takes you seriously and it would be great if your peers did too. Your peers may not value age or tenure as much as the wisdom and maturity that can come from years of experience. You can’t change your age but you can still demonstrate your wisdom and maturity.
Mature professionals seek feedback and accept it. Spend time with peers to understand why they don’t take you seriously and how you might change that. This will also show you want to learn and grow.
Be prompt, prepared and precise, especially under pressure. This demonstrates the wisdom to value time, not waste it. Always do what you say and say what you do. This reliability is a rare form of maturity that builds credibility.
Show that you value your peers’ opinions and not just your own by asking for their ideas. Mature professionals respect diverse opinions and cultivate common ground to build mutual respect. Thank peers for their ideas and feedback. People who feel genuinely appreciated and valued will likely be more open to support you and your ideas.
It’s sometimes not what’s said but how it’s said. Listen more and seek to understand what’s working, and why, before you offer "helpful" alternatives. Use tact and patience when suggesting ideas, so peers are more willing to consider them.
To “fight when right” and “concede when wrong” requires maturity. Admit what you don’t know and share what you’ve learned from failures, not just success. Combining knowledge with humility can create authenticity and inspire belief.
If you’re already doing all these things, kudos. Keep it up. Address any peer feedback. Continue building your track record. If you combine these efforts with patience, there’s a good chance your peers will come to respect you and value your ideas.
The Second Answer
Carine Lacroix, founder and CEO, Reneshone, Toronto
Working effectively with a multigenerational group that includes millennials, Generation Xers, baby boomers and others can be a challenge. What you are experiencing (“older peers [not taking you seriously and not considering you] as equal”) is related to a low level of inclusion in your organization. Here are my suggestions:
1. Don’t keep the lack of inclusion that you experience hidden from your peers; instead, communicate with them and convey that including you will benefit them. A diverse team is a collective power because exchanging ideas lets teammates see their biases and allows them to discover new ideas and perspectives. Thus, the quality of decision-making improves.
2. In meetings with your peers, listen to their perspectives, show appreciation and be a team player. The more they notice that you care about what they say, the more they will be motivated to reciprocate and give back by listening to your ideas. This is called the “social exchange theory.” Also, provide your own input during meetings, but always listen to what others have to say.
3. Build relationships with your peers. Your intent should be to know them and learn from them. What do they like about the organization? What are the biggest challenges that they overcame? Show them that you’re interested in who they are.
As Dale Carnegie said: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
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