May-December Careering...When You Are December

06/26/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Just as May-December love affairs can cause awkward situations, so can similar intergenerational gaps wreak havoc in the workplace. As you may have realized, you might well be working much longer than you ever thought. And the longer you work, the more you will encounter dealing with and working for younger managers. Chances are you will feel defensive, but it doesn't have to be this way.

Here's what NOT to do when you're older than your bosses and co-workers:

1. Clean up your act. Look in a mirror. Get rid of a decade-old style of dress or hair. And, don't even attempt to look 25 when you are 50+, but you can look stylish and polished, even elegant, no matter the numbers.

2. Ban your own disclaimers like "When I was your age..." and "I can't even hear what they're singing about now; I prefer the oldies." Don't be oblivious to new culture.

3. Don't patronize your co-workers with expressions such as, "You aren't old enough to remember this..." Not only can this be insulting, but it also adds to unnecessary and awkward attention to age gaps.

4. Keep your reluctance to try Kindle, Twitter, Facebook to yourself, and get with the program. Enlist a tutor to bring you up to speed if you're feeling helpless. Expect new changes in technology as we go and try to stay open.

5. Eliminate untrendy slang, like "Groovy, "Neat," or "Nifty." If new lingo offends or eclipses you, just speak plain English. That's always in fashion.

6. Stop explaining how it used to be, how you bent over a light-box and literally cut and paste with an Exacto knife, not with just a stroke of a computer key. Instead, read up on technology articles, take seminars and courses to keep yourself current, and solicit advice from friends and family.

Here's how to use your age to your benefit:

1. Share your political savvy and negotiation skills.

2. Acknowledge the younger group's talents and strengths and make yourself articulate what they are and why they are important.

3. Use your own prior successful projects to build onto theirs and pull in additional work. I have advised clients to do this and it always results in new business.

4. Request time-outs during long meetings to refocus, lessen tension, and find new directions. Younger techies, typically not as group savvy, can benefit from your guidance.

5. Ask how you can be valuable and contribute more. You may be surprised with unexpected, positive responses.

6. Mentor one or two younger people who have talent but need some advice and coaching. You'll be doing a service and building a team of loyal fans at the same time.

Make your luck happen!

Dr Adele