January 21, 2004
Age question not designed as privacy invasion
today, I pulled into the car wash, rolled down my window
and requested their $10 service. The efficient attendant,
a young woman, was smiling - and then came the bomb. She
asked if I was qualified for the senior citizen's
discount. Not knowing how to respond, and being in my
mid-50's, I asked what age one needed to be for
the discount. When she said 65, I wondered how beat up
and tired that I looked. Should this question be asked?
Is this business operating with integrity when it allows
employees to risk embarrassing folks with age-sensitive
questions and assumptions?
you look a little older than you had thought. Do you remember
how old that people who were even 45 looked when you were
quite young? Was her question about your age intended
to intrude upon your privacy or be attentive to ways her
company might help you to save a few dollars? For the
number of times this question about senior-citizen discount
qualification steps on toes, there are probably 10 times
more instances when the customer appreciates the concern
and the thoughtfulness of the car wash ownership.
integrity issue is yet to be assessed. Since our column
speaks of eight integrity-centered attributes, let's
review this event and make note, with italics, how behaviors
can be surveyed against standards of appropriate conduct.
What really matters in this situation is not so much the
young person's question about age, but rather your
response. Did you accept the discount, knowing you did
not deserve it? The integrity-centered response is the
truth. You are not 65 and ought not to accept the offer.
If you did, were you being honest? No.
ego aside, were you gracious in how you treated the employee?
She attempted to assist a person who she believed deserved
a little extra attention, financially. She was attempting
to be professional and productive. Did you demonstrate
respect and discipline with reference to how you responded
to this person? Did you thank the person for trying to
be helpful? Did you control your own negative emotional
reaction, recognizing that your uncertainty and insecurity
about your appearance might not accurately reflect the
motivations of either the person asking the question or
the organization that believes the question about age
ought to be asked? Were you kind?
circumstances in which we find ourselves might not do
as much harm to us as can our responses to them. It is
not simply what happens; it is how we handle things that
reflect our character. As the older participant in the
encounter, and perhaps even the wiser, were you able to
exhibit the right behavior? It is not appropriate to react
and shake this employee's confidence. She was doing
her job by carrying out her company's policies.
She behaved with integrity. Did you?