People of different ages in the workplace have a lot to learn from each other. Take advantage of this.

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Most workplaces have traditionally consisted of “old-timers” (older in terms of age and of longevity with the company) and “newbies” (young in both years and experience). The old-timers were the ones with the power; the newbies were, more or less, patient about waiting their turn.

Nowadays, however, this traditional structure is changing. Frequent lay-offs, reorganizations and job-hopping have produced a workforce where fewer people are truly “old-timers,” at least in terms of longevity. In this new world, a 60-something may find himself with a boss half his age. Some workplaces have entirely jettisoned the old chain-of-command hierarchy and now function by means of teams, wherein everybody functions on more or less an equal level.

What this means is that everyone needs to learn how to better function with people of all ages.

The first step is to avoid stereotyping. People over 60 aren’t all resistant to change and hopeless with technology. People in their 20s and 30s aren’t all under-disciplined and over-protected. You can’t go wrong treating your colleagues like the individuals they are.

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Other tips:

Show the same respect to others that you’d like to have shown to you. Dismissive attitude, eye-rolling and teasing are not only unproductive, they will earn you enemies.

Be tolerant of alternative ways of doing things. If communication is flowing, it doesn’t matter if said communication takes place by text or an old-fashioned phone call. Or even at a meeting. Don’t be afraid of trying something new (or old).

Put your focus on your mutual goal. Don’t assume, listen. Look for common ground. Be patient.

Share your expectations. Use facts and be specific. Provide the background on why it’s important to do or say things a certain way.

Seek perspective. Colleagues from different generations grew up in very different worlds from yours. This is cool. You can learn from each other!

Finally, be ready to compromise. Old-timers, know that your workplace is changing and will continue to change; you will thrive only by adapting. Newbies, be patient; earning trust takes time and so will your climb to the top.

Bonus: These tips apply not only to working well with folks on the other side of the “generation gap.” They apply to everybody, all the time.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at