Community Perspectives: What are some tips to develop a good professional relationship with older reports in my company?

Our in-house professional community discuss how best to work with coworkers of different ages.

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Community Perspectives: What are some tips to develop a good professional relationship with older reports in my company?

(Author) General Counsel

Just became General Counsel for a company and found out today I'm one of, if not the, youngest employee in the company. My age isn't an issue for most, but some people who directly report to me (although I am the only lawyer, I also oversee our compliance department so we have compliance specialists, service reps, and a few other people who report directly to me) some are clearly upset at having a boss who is younger than them. - Does anyone have any advice for how to handle this situation? I don't want to be unempathetic, but I also need these people to respect me and my position.

General Counsel Responses:

  • I’m younger than everyone in my department except for one assistant. Don’t think about this too much, because you can drive yourself crazy. If someone is being insubordinate or unprofessional, deal with it through the appropriate channels. Otherwise if anyone is upset about your age, leave them alone (as long as they fall in line).
  • I am actually in a similar situation, but I haven’t noticed anyone upset about it yet. Being the first (and only) lawyer—also a direct-litigation hire—I decided to take it upon myself to reach out to my co-workers when I started and ask how I could best assist them in my new role. I found that to be very productive both for establishing rapport and figuring out how the pieces of the company fit together. - Good luck and congrats!!

Partner Responses:

  • Show excellent professional judgment and earn people’s respect, but also be empathetic and win people’s hearts.
  • First, congratulations! Second, I know that we have been programmed that it’s dog-eat-dog (and that may be true to some extent if you are competing with other companies/firms), but I don’t like that way of thinking when you are part of a team. Selflessness, respect and humility have done wonders for my career. I am not saying that I always excel in this, but these virtues are rare, and because they are rare they are noticed.

Associate and Attorney Responses:

  • Just ignore this and be professional. They can fall in line or not. Management trusts you, so continue to trust in yourself.
  • Are you sure it’s age and not that they wanted your job? Or think they have more experience? I’d check your ego and make sure you aren’t giving off a vibe that is causing the problem.
  • I had this same issue. I actually ended up leaving my job. I will say this; force people to respect you and don’t take their bad attitudes. I let a lot of things go when people took low blows. I regret it and I think if I stood up for myself, it would have been different. For the people who report to you, make an effort to really get to know them. Once you build a relationship it should be easier. ‘Keep your enemies close…’ Well, current enemies at least.

In-house? Join the conversation on Fishbowl (anonymous).