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Overcoming Ageism in the Workplace

BY JACK HAMILTON AND ELISABETH SEAMAN

Co-Authors of "Conflict - The Unexpected Gift"

Forethought About Stereotypes

In our book, Conflict—The Unexpected Gift, we discuss the impact of unconscious stereotypes on the attitudes and behavior of people. For example, do you know someone who makes a quick judgment and then has a hard time changing his mind? That seems to be human nature. What makes these judgments hard to change is that they are often completely unconscious. They are the result of the system of generalized categories people have acquired over time.

Stereotypes are categories we carry around in our unconscious minds about objects, events or groups of people. A stereotype or prejudice is a vastly oversimplified generalization in which individuals are typecast with certain characteristics because of their real or perceived membership in a category.

“Business colleagues should come from many walks of life. Diverse perspectives add value and promote innovation, growth and retention... . Be aware of natural biases. Challenge yourself and your assumptions.”

TRACY COTE

Chief People Officer, Genesys

We need to continually work on surfacing our stereotypes. And then we need to ask ourselves probing questions as to whether our stereotypes are, indeed, dependable or undependable guides for confirming the validity of new facts. The film, The Intern, with Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway portrays overcoming ageist stereotypes. And it's a great story to boot.

In her column in the August 19th issue of The Wall Street Journal, Sue Shellenbarger writes, "You don’t have to be near retirement to battle a perception that you’ve accomplished too much. Few obstacles are more perplexing for job seekers than being told you’re overqualified. The problem can crop up anytime, even early in applicants’ careers, and often when they least expect it. New research lends insight into some of the quirky and often counterintuitive reasons managers decide somebody is just too good for the job—reasons applicants can sometimes overcome with forethought and skillful communication."

Skillful Communication 1-2-3

Now, let’s examine the kind of skillful communication techniques that both veteran job seekers and HR professionals need to use in order to have a cooperative dialogue about the issue of whether to view a big title, or years of experience, as a disqualifier or a qualifier for a job. Citing from our book, we suggest you consider these 3 proven communication principles:

When you react brusquely to another person’s words or behavior and instantly state your assumptions, you risk cutting that person off. This does not allow the other person to open up and hear your thoughts and feelings….

When it’s time to give your side of the story, speak openly and directly. Your goal is not to persuade him but to have your concerns heard fairly. You want to help the other person understand your assumptions. Your goal is to help him understand how you came to think what you were thinking.

The key to communicating constructively is to start by sharing what you see as facts and by stating your assumptions clearly and without blame. Once you’ve shared your point of view, you can ask the other person to share his views regarding the accuracy of what he just heard.”

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