You're typing away furiously on your smart phone's keyboard. So far, you look like most of your office colleagues.
There's just one problem: You're hunting and pecking with your index finger, instead of using your thumbs.
And that's a dead giveaway of where you land on the generational divide.
It might not seem significant but it can signal to those around you how old you are, leading to stereotyping that can often be unfair, says Pamela Redmond Satran, author of the new book How Not to Act Old: 185 Ways to Pass for Phat, Sick, Hot, Dope, Awesome, or At Least Not Totally Lame.
These tips will help you look cool while avoiding embarrassment at the office
It can also lead to a tricky balancing act: You don't want to look, act or sound old. But at the same time, you don't want to look like you're trying too hard to look, act and sound young, says Ms. Redmond Satran, a social commentator.
It's an issue that will increasingly confront older employees who want to stay in the work force longer, and are increasingly likely to find themselves working with, and for, much younger colleagues and bosses, Ms. Redmond Satran says.
Many actions can demonstrate your age, some as obvious as not staying up-to-date with technology and repeatedly talking about the past rather than the present, she says.
Other old-fogey tip-offs may be more subtle, such as hunting and pecking with your index finger to type out messages on portable devices rather than using your thumbs, as the generation that has grown up using them does.
"Ageism is not supposed to exist, but it remains pervasive, and anything you can do to reduce the perception that you are stereotypically old will help you survive in the present pressured workplace. It behooves you to be aware of the stereotypes and try to counteract them," Ms. Redmond Satran says.
However, there's also a risk that older workers who try too hard to act younger can make their out-of-datedness stand out even more, the experts warn.
"Trying to act like a rap fan when you're in the Beatles generation is just going to highlight that you're straining badly to be something you're not," warns Toronto career coach Randall Craig, author of the career planning book Personal Balance Sheet. "Don't try to fake it. Even worse than being seen as dated is showing yourself up as a phony," he says.
"There is a lot to be said for generational integrity and your experience is part of what gives you your value. There's really no hiding the fact you have different experiences, and a younger boss expects that you'll act at least somewhat close to your age," Mr. Craig adds.
More older people will be working for younger bosses in the years to come.
While there are no comprehensive statistics, "a youth trend is clearly happening in middle management in Canada as companies looking for new ideas promote a next generation of younger employees into positions that groom them to be the next generation of leaders," says Adwoa Buahene, managing partner of Toronto-based n-gen People Performance Inc., which advises leaders on workplace generational differences.
At the same time, many aging baby boomers are staying on the job longer, so the chances of workers having a younger boss are increasing, she says.
So it's wise to develop a strategy to narrow any perceived age gap. And it's best to learn ways to act less like an oldster rather than trying to act like a youngster, Ms. Redmond Satran advises.
How? "You just need to be more in touch than [many]older employees are," she says.
That can come from just observing what goes on around you, she says.
In her mid-50s herself, she keeps up with trends by regularly combing the Internet for stories on social and youth topics and technology, and by observing interactions in workplaces and having conversations with younger employees as well as her two children, who are in their twenties.
She's found it's a good idea to know about current slang, social fads, music and celebrities causing a buzz, so you can follow conversations around the office.
But unless you really do hang out in music clubs, don't try to pretend to be a fan of particular groups or talk like a rapper. Throwing the word "phat" - street slang for attractive, sexy and cool (or is that hot?) - into a conversation may backfire and make you seem dated; the word is already going out of fashion in the ever-morphing youth culture, she notes.
At the same time, you might want to alter some of the things you normally say. For instance, something as simple as talking about a "cell" phone will label you an oldie to a generation that didn't grow up with any other kind of phone, she says.
You might want to also alter some of the things you do. For example, you might want to be less conspicuous in checking a watch on your wrist to tell the time in front of someone younger who is way more likely to check the time on a phone or computer, she says.
You should also keep in mind that younger generations are more likely to send e-mails, text messages or short phone messages. Leaving a long voice mail might get you labelled a rambling time waster, she says.
At the same time, there are many relatively simple things older workers can do with their appearance to keep from looking too old or trying to look too young, says image coach Catherine Bell, president of Prime Image in Kingston.
"Both women and men should realize that looser versions of what they see in fashion magazines will camouflage bodies that may no longer be in perfect tone," she says.
Nothing suggests you are old and tired like stooping over or slouching in a chair. Pay attention to standing and sitting tall, Ms. Bell recommends.
More than anything, your emphasis should be on today and tomorrow, rather than yesterday, Ms. Redmond Satran advises.
"So many people make the point that they have 25 years in the trenches, and love to talk about how things were done in the past. That's a big mistake because it spotlights how long you've been around," she says. "It's also saying you are more conscious of the length of time you've been doing this than you are of the current challenges. "
What you want to do instead is talk about what you are doing now and what you hope to accomplish in the future, Ms. Redmond Satran says.
In the end, there is no magic dividing line between young and old, she says.
"Acting old is about doing things that show that you are not in touch with what it going on now, and that can happen at any age."
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