The Young Entrepreneur's Generation Gap Challenge Here are three tips that will serve you well when dealing with an age bully.

By Scott Gerber

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg
(CC) Brian Solis, / / CC-BY

Many young entrepreneurs face a bias from prospective customers or other dealmakers who make assumptions about maturity, business acumen and intellect based on their age. A scene from The Social Network, the movie about the founding of Facebook, captured the conflict well.

Mark Zuckerberg, the film's main character and 20-something founder of the wildly successful company, gazes out a window in deep thought, unrelated to his immediate predicament, as he is addressed by an older attorney in a deposition. Failing to get his attention, the older man is clearly upset. The patronizing patter is likely familiar to generations of young entrepreneurs.

Lawyer: Do you think I deserve your full attention?

Mark Zuckerberg: I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition, and I don't want to perjure myself, so I have a legal obligation to say no.

Lawyer: Okay -- no. You don't think I deserve your attention.

Mark Zuckerberg: If your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try. But there's no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention -- the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing. Did I adequately answer your condescending question?

Fact or fiction aside, this scene is a reminder that young entrepreneurs need to be on top of their game when it comes to selling to, relating to, and negotiating with older professionals and businesspeople. Here are three tips that will serve you well when dealing with an age bully.

  1. Hold your ground. If you know you're right, don't let anyone bully you simply because they are older than you. Hold your ground and show them the same level of courtesy. Being told you are wrong or that you need "someone else's help" to truly realize your vision is a tactic others use to try to weaken your position and strengthen theirs. Learn the difference between those who add value and those who simply want the value you offer.
  2. Don't waste your time. Establish your value and track record at the start of any meeting, but avoid appearing conceited or pompous. If the person across the table from you is too egotistical or elitist to accept you as an equal, understand your value and be courteous. They are not worth your time -- no matter what they say (or you think) they bring to the table.
  3. Bring gray-haired backup. The best way to soften up a lead or negotiation is by bringing someone with whom older generations can see eye-to-eye. Is this a sign of weakness? Can you not handle your own business yourself? Quite the contrary. It allows you to manipulate the situation to your advantage.

Respect is born out of track record and accomplishment, not age, profession or title. Age is never a reason to kowtow to opposition -- ever. Business is business. If the other side doesn't understand this principle -- or foolishly underestimates your abilities -- walk out the door. Don't worry; chances are they'll leave you a few messages when you're successful later on -- which you'll be sure to never return.

Scott Gerber is the founder of Sizzle It!, a New York-based sizzle reel production company specializing in promotional videos for PR and marketing professionals, and the Young Entrepreneur Council. He is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, columnist, public speaker and author of Never Get a "Real" Job: How To Dump Your Boss, Build a Business and Not Go Broke (Wiley, 2010).

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Related Topics

Business News

I Tried 3 AI Headshot Generators and There Was a Clear Winner

Aragon AI, Momo, and FastShot AI all generate headshots using AI, but which one actually works for LinkedIn?


Enhance Your Website's Visibility and Dominate Your Competition With These Powerful Techniques

Mastering backlinks and content intent is key to ranking higher on search engines. Our guide can help you learn the right techniques and strategies for improving your backlinks and content quality.

Business Ideas

55 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.


SMART Goals May Be Holding You Back — Try This Effective Goal-Setting Technique Instead

Everyone suggests SMART goals, but this framework is flawed. Learn why and how to create goals properly — ones that you can actually achieve.


Why Saying "I Don't Know" Makes You a Better Leader

Great leaders do not have all the answers. "I don't know" may come across as three simple, innocuous words, but they do have the power to make business stronger.

Business News

2024 Could Be the Year that Makes or Breaks a Lot of Small Businesses, According to a New Report

About a third of small business owners indicated on a Slack survey that they aren't sure if their businesses will survive the year.