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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 ANSWER

Billy Anderson – Founder, 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.