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How old are you? Power move

Hello guys,

I started a new rotation 2 weeks ago. A secretary asked me in the work environment where there are other secretaries within earshot in front of their desk (and there is usually patients but not at this moment)

How old are you?

I’m 41 and I’m about 10 years older than other colleagues in the same role.

However I avoided to answer as I know that after that there will be a lot of gossip (secretaries!).

Also it’s not really appropriate to ask a new colleague their age, especially if you’re not equals and don’t know well each other. Especially if it’s not a private conversation.

So I said: « this is a bit personal as a question »

She said: «  it’s not like I’m asking you if you’re married »

I laughed and went on.

Later she insisted and I told her: “guess” she said “35” and said: « I’m a little bit older. How old are you? »

She said: « 24 »

I still did not want to answer.

It may look as I’m making a big deal out of it. However I did not feel comfortable in the way she was asking. Not like she was interested in me but more to gain information about me. So I did not trust her.

Next time I will tell her: “yeah, you know we don’t know well each other yet”

Once again I’m afraid the frame will be: “he thinks he’s better than us” because there’s a lot of inferiority complex working with other professionals in the hospital. So they project their insecurities on us.

I also don’t want to cave in because I feel it’s  a power move and sets a precedent.

Both secretaries have a lot of time on their hands and gossip a lot so I prefer not to give them too much to gossip about.

There is a part from me as an insecurity about my age (being so old for that junior role). However even outside of that consideration I feel it was not appropriate.

I also felt like asking “why?” would be too confrontational.

Do you guys have any opinion on that?

No work reason she needs to know. I used to get this all the time in the dating world.

I d give one of these replies and change the topic.  Old enough

Old enough to know better

Younger than most hills but older than some trees.

Of course they are all a bit playful.  At work i d say I prefer not to say.  If they press you on it.  Just smile say we re at work and walk off.

You have indirectly pointed out those questions  are not appropriate

 

 

John Freeman has reacted to this post.
John Freeman
Quote from John Freeman on May 21, 2022, 9:49 am

However I avoided to answer as I know that after that there will be a lot of gossip (secretaries!).

Yeah, secretaries can be the "nosy Nancy's" of the workplace sometimes, I get it 🙂

Quote from John Freeman on May 21, 2022, 9:49 am

Also it’s not really appropriate to ask a new colleague their age, especially if you’re not equals and don’t know well each other. Especially if it’s not a private conversation.

Yeah, good point,  I tend to agree on this one here.

As far as how you handled it though, I think it could've been navigated another way on the social side.

#1. Assertiveness

Her: How old are you?

John: This is a bit personal as a question.

Her: It's not like I'm asking you if you're married.

John: (laughs and moves on)

In this case, it would've been cool to laugh it off if you genuinely didn't care. But, if it's a boundary of yours, a little more assertiveness would've been OK here too.

Her: How old are you?

John: That's a bit personal.

Her: It's not like I'm asking you if you're married.

John: I know, it's personal to me though. Anyway...

Then, move the conversation along.

If you don't, she may continue to pry because she doesn't think it's a "big deal" since you didn't express that it's important to you.

#2. Meta-Comment Technique

E.g.

Her: How old are you?

John: Well, that's certainly one way to get to know someone (smiles).

Her: It's not like I'm asking you if you're married.

John: Of course not, I think there are better ways to get to know me though. What's your favorite... (Asks a different question about her to change the subject)

More on this here.

#3. Reframe

Similar to Kevin's feedback above, if the implied frame is that you "have to" or "should" give a straight answer, you can reframe that as not the case.

I might say:

Her: How old are you?

John: I'll keep that a mystery (smiles).

Her: Why?

John: I like to have a little mystery. (Change subject)

Now, on the second half, when she insists on knowing how old you are, you could have still used assertiveness (and expected her to respect your boundaries).

[Later on]

Her: (insists on knowing how old John is)

John: Look, I know it might seem like a small thing, but that's personal to me. And, I like to get to know people a little better before I share information that personal.

Also, when you ask her "How old are you?" it can create a "reciprocity-based pressure" where you feel socially indebted by her self-disclosure to share information about yourself (in this case, sharing your age in return, unless you want to feel like you're being "unfair").

Quote from John Freeman on May 21, 2022, 9:49 am

I also felt like asking “why?” would be too confrontational.

Do you guys have any opinion on that?

I think it depends on how you say it and how far the insisting went.

For example, you could use a softener before you use that frame surfacing:

Her: (keeps insiting further on knowing how old John is to the point of uncalibrated social rudeness)

John: I'm curious (softener), why do you want to know how old I am? (adds more to the end than only "why" to give a little power-protecting/rapport-preservation)

Her: I'm just curious, it's not a big deal.

John: Yeah, I get your curious, I'm asking why you're curious. Why do you want to know?

Now, she's more likely to back off and refrain from pushing in the future, knowing that she might get met with difficult questions again instead of the straight answer she wanted.

And, the more difficult something is, the less likely someone is to do it.

Lucio Buffalmano, John Freeman and 3 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoJohn FreemanAlexBelleaderoffun

Great stuff, guys! Thanks a lot!

My favorite is the last one. I think in the future I will do a mix of asking why they’re curious and then telling them that it’s a bit personal.

There are 3 aspects here:

1. I admitted that there might be an insecurity I’m going to work on.

2. There is the gap between the closeness of our relationship: the inadequacy/boundary overstepping. 

3. There is the control of private information (Machiavellian aspect) in an environment where it’s a currency: “Do you know John’s age? »

For real, age is not that big of a deal and not that of a key info (compared to alliances, career goals, income, etc.). However I’m in an environment that I think is quite judging and this could be used against me. It could either be a status boost or used in a way to say: « you’re that age and you don’t know that? »

Then as you guys pointed out there’s the social finesse/savvy of dealing with it (power protection, laughing it off, etc.)

Ali's post is great, lots of usable options.

I will add to those my current personal favorite for questions deliberately made to upset me (which I learned from reading PU, especially the parts on aggression and on the "framing buffet"):

  • deliberately and ostentatiously changing topic; or
  • (in case of insistence) silence.

But first:

My take on the situation

It's as follows: this lady was deliberately asking you a nasty question to upset and/or establish superiority on the askee. I infer this from your way of telling the event:

A secretary asked me in the work environment where there are other secretaries within earshot in front of their desk

Meaning she likely wanted others to publicly hear.

I’m 41 and I’m about 10 years older than other colleagues in the same role.

Since it appears she knew beforehand you were older than others here by simply watching you, her question becomes a form of nasty public surfacing your age difference.

So I said: « this is a bit personal as a question »

She said: «  it’s not like I’m asking you if you’re married »

I laughed and went on.

So far so good. She could have been simply socially ungraceful.

Later she insisted

This is were she proves she was power-moving on you. If someone says "That's personal" (like you said to her), I - and, I guess, also 90% of people out there - would not insist in any way in my question.

In fact, I recall many times when someone said the exact same thing to me ("That's personal") and I never asked again, and also felt somewhat ashamed that I had made a social faux pas.

I did not feel comfortable in the way she was asking. Not like she was interested in me but more to gain information about me. So I did not trust her.

Your intuition is totally on point here on her nastiness and (let me use this term please!) malevolence.

Once again I’m afraid the frame will be: “he thinks he’s better than us” because there’s a lot of inferiority complex working with other professionals in the hospital. So they project their insecurities on us.

This, to me, is interpreting the situation just as she wants you to: in reversal. She is trying to imply you are disrespecting her by not answering, while the truth is she is the one who is trying to disrespect you by asking publicly, i.e. trying to one-up you with a nasty move in front of others.

In other words, she was covertly aggressing you. All the more nasty because you are her superior at work.

My take on answering these kinds of moves

Before studying PU, I would always try a way of politely pointing out I did not want to answer to a question like this. No avail. These people don't understand politeness.

They understand only one thing: power and aggression. Just like what they do.

Here is what I would do:

Her: How old are you?

You: Hi Jane, it's good to see you today.

Or, if she insists and/or you want to establish the correct order of things more strongly:

Her: How old are you?

You: Remeber, today we need to complete file X and see patient Z. See you later.

In other words, the answer should imply you have the power of not even addressing her question (and, optionally, that you are the one who has the power to ask questions/give orders).

You are the doctor here, and she is the secretary. And you are older and more experienced. And a better person in general. She does not have the power to ask you such a question, and she should be (covertly) shamed for doing so.

If she continues:

Her: How old are you?

You: (Silence, look her in the eyes. Then after one second, move on and go away.)

This way she is rightly shamed for covertly aggressing you, and the more she continues, the more she will feel social uneasiness and her power diminishing (because demanding compliance without getting it frames the one demanding as the "power-down" person: as she should be based on your work roles alone).

Then she'll stop.

Lucio Buffalmano, John Freeman and leaderoffun have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoJohn Freemanleaderoffun

Great answers already.

I'll offer a TOTALLY different POW.

Have you thought you're taking it too seriously and it might be:

It's just flirting (& dating strategies)

Some women reading here will hate this, but:

You're the cock in the henhouse there.

And hens being hens, they'll seek the cock's attention.

And, possibly, to test if the cock might be interested in those hens (and if so, which one).

Notice her reply:

"it's not like I ask you if you're married"

It's not a coincidence at all (and I'm laughing at the game as I'm typing it).

It's a covert question to ask you whether you're married (and a test & preparation for that question to come if you don't volunteer it).

All the answers here are great if you want to stay in the professional realm.

And that's a totally fair approach if you prefer it.

But what if not?
It's not the only option.

To me, the answer to those questions is to laugh and have fun.

To let them ask and be curious, even tease their curiosity, and enjoy the game.

My office life would have been a far worse place without those games.

Frame control flirting

Here's a different approach:

Her: how old are you
You: (smiles) what a question (<---- friendly yet high power frame control, go "superior". You avoid even entertaining the question at a serious level)
Her: what do you mean?

From there you can take it the professional way.

The good thing is that the initial laugh and neutral comment will soften the blow, preserve rapport, make it "less overly serious".

Now to take it the flirt way:

You: that's how it starts (<---- implies you know where she's going and that she's being a minxy impudent)
Her: starts what
You: you know... First it's how old are you, then are you single, then... (how big... You know... )

OK, the last one in parenthesis might be carrying it too far in most places.

The point is:

This whole thing sub-communicates you know the game, enjoy it playing... And don't take them too seriously.
And does so while retaining and increasing that peacock status.

Of course, even going the flirty way, you don't want the workplace to devolve into a continuous flirtation or game-fest.

But you can be both.
If you're serious and goal-oriented when it needs to be, and if you cut it out when there is shit to get done, then all the more power to you.

The power dynamics of flirting

Of course there are power dynamics.

But it's different than power dynamics with other doctors.

Most secretaries don't engage in power games to climb the hierarchies because they're not looking to become the next CEO (exceptions can always apply of course).

Generally speaking, women take that risk with men who are above them (enough to be interested), but not too above (or they'd be afraid to and wouldn't allow themselves).

So that tells you they probably don't see you as much above them (but if you just walked in there and aren't even going to stay, that's pretty normal. Plus, you're more like the Maverick who's passing by and is not going to impact their career or livelihood, so not much to fear).

The political and power component risk is that you get dragged down to play those games without retaining your superior status.
Or if you overdo it and get a reputation for a player first, a doctor second.

But it's possible to combine the two: be playful, but also be a top professional who gets shit done.
As a matter of fact, being able to combine some playfulness with high professionalism probably enhances results.

Ali Scarlett, John Freeman and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettJohn FreemanBelleaderoffun
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Thank you very much guys! I like Lucio's approach a lot for the social finesse of it.

Here is the end of the game, today:

Her: he has still not answered our question (to her secretary colleague)

Me: what question?

Her: his age

Other secretary: Ooh, you're still there (shaming her)

Me (jumping on the bandwagon): Yeah (with a disappointed vocal tone)

Other secretary: he's worse than a woman (one-up, meaning that I don't want to reveal my age)

Me: Hahaha (laughing it off)

Other secretary: he's laughing

Me: Yeah I'm laughing (with a smile)

Me: BTW, could you please scan this and send this one to the patient? (moved on)

So there was definitely a flirting element. I knew there could be but I did not want to go this direction with the secretary as then they always come back to it because they're bored.

Her new obsessive question:

Her: could you make me a sick leave for work? For 12 months

Me: I'll think about it

She does flirt and jokes around. However, I don't want it to escalate with her and then we flirt and joke all the time.

As you guys noticed, I like to keep it professional. I'm a newcomer. So I like to joke and flirt but it depends with whom I noticed.

Anyway, I learned a lot thanks to you and I'm grateful! 🙂

 

Lucio Buffalmano, Ali Scarlett and Bel have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAli ScarlettBel

And, once again, Lucio's analysis takes the cake 😀

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Lucio BuffalmanoBel
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