Most of us have experienced the irritation of being talked down to, whether it’s by a manager or a colleague who believes they know it all and has to learn how to keep their ego in check.
It’s so tempting to bite back because it makes you patronised and belittled, and the fact is, sometimes the other person doesn’t even know that they are doing it.
But there are ways to handle this kind of situation without fighting fire with fire. Here’s how to deal with a condescending person.
Remember it’s not about you
It’s so easy to take it personally when a person is condescending towards you, and your first instinct might be to attack them to defend yourself.
It might help to pause and think about the fact that their behaviour says more about them than it does about you. Their need to feel superior hints at underlying insecurity or a certain level of narcissism. Try and stay calm (not easy in a fraught situation, I know).
Address the behaviour or walk away
Don’t make a scene, but tell the person privately that their condescending words or behaviour are not okay with you, and give them the chance to talk it out with you in a constructive way.
If you feel like you are struggling to remain calm in the situation, explain to them that you are going to walk away. Go and gather your thoughts before attempting to speak to the person calmly about their behaviour. It often helps to go for a walk or get a drink to give yourself breathing space.
Be aware of your body language
If you’re trying to appear calm in the face of provocation, your body language can betray you. Try and refrain from crossing your arms, rolling your eyes, or getting in someone’s face. Instead, keep your body language open, stand up straight, and avoid anything which could be interpreted as hostile. You are taking the high ground here, and defending your right to be spoken to respectfully and professionally at work.
Working remotely, be careful of sighing or your face showing your anger when it’s through Zoom or Teams.
Ask for an explanation
There are situations where someone may be completely unaware of how they’ve behaved towards you. Maybe they’ve worked somewhere before where their condescending behaviour was never challenged and they have no clue that you feel belittled and offended.
This is the time to ask for an explanation about what they’ve said and what was meant by the tone in which they said it. It can be helpful to tell someone how they are coming across, as this can help them avoid conflict with others further down the line.
Don’t respond with a similar manner to them either. That will only make the situation worse.
Consider saying something like “How could we work together on this?” or “I feel you ae struggling with the way we are working, how can we help each other?”
Remember, you can’t change someone’s behaviour, you can only manage it, and use strategies to minimise any negative impact on you, your team, and the business.
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