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THE QUESTION

I am 16 years old and recently got my first job in retail sales. However, after nearly six months, I feel that I don't get the respect or attention I deserve. Most of my co-workers are in their 20s or 30s, which isn't a huge age difference, but I feel they look down on me as immature, even though that's not the case.

I'm often excluded from idle conversations and rarely get help with my sales work. To make matters worse, my enthusiastic attitude when talking with customers has attracted the ire of a particular co-worker who, I have been told, badmouths me to other employees, including the manager.

Most of the employees in my department seem like genuinely nice people and I know we share a lot of interests. I can understand why they wouldn't want to make friends with a 16-year-old, but I really want to make connections. How can I change their prejudices about my age and become a person they enjoy talking to?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Billy Anderson

Founder of Made You Think Coaching, Toronto

As human beings, we have a built-in desire to belong and feel respected. That's how we've survived since we lived in caves.

Realistically, if your colleagues are in their 20s or 30s, then there is an age gap. They may never include you in all their conversations, but you're right, they should make you feel included and respected. Everyone deserves that.

As with all challenges in life, first check your assumptions. Your colleagues may not actually be looking down on you as much as you think. Perhaps they feel that a younger person like you might not want to talk to them.

Try showing some interest in them as people, not just as colleagues. Ask how their weekend was and discuss your similar interests.

The badmouthing should definitely be addressed, since your reputation is at stake. You could ask your boss for advice on how to handle the situation, but don't name names and make it clear that you would prefer to try and improve the relationship yourself. That shows you're not a whiner and you're willing to take responsibility, while making your boss aware that an issue exists.

Above all, keep working hard and treating people the way you want to be treated. It's the best way to build connections.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Bill Howatt

Howatt HR Consulting, Kentville, N.S.

Regardless of age, respect is a core ingredient for successful professional relationships, which are developed through building trust. Something that can delay development of professional relationships, regardless of age, are behavioural blind spots. You have expressed your concerns about what you believe others are doing. But it is possible that you, too, may be the source of strain in your relationships with your colleagues?

When faced with a stressful situation, it's a good practice to focus on what you can control.

Focusing on negativity just fuels frustration. Shift your focus and develop a new game plan that includes the following tactics:

Each shift, set a goal for yourself and measure how well you achieve it.

Ask for feedback, and accept it without being defensive. This shines a light on others' perceptions, and can uncover blind spots. When unsure how to respond to feedback, ask a trusted peer for their perspective.

Give customers and employees your best. Set your own bar high and stay out of the games that some people play.

Avoid gossip and never be heard complaining.

Try taking this approach for the next 60 days, and you may discover that perceived age barriers have been knocked down.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com.