How To Deal With A Condescending Co-Worker (With Examples)

By Sky Ariella - Dec. 11, 2020
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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Everyone has experienced the eye-roll-inducing experience of working with a condescending co-worker at least once in their professional life. It can be a tough situation to navigate, especially under the confines of maintaining professionalism at work.

Before you put in your two weeks notice letter just yet, take a beat to consider the possible ways you can handle a condescending co-worker. You may find that tackling the situation results in a more enjoyable and productive work environment.

What Is Considered Condescending Behavior?

The definition of condescending is to demonstrate feelings of superiority over another person. Many people wonder what behavior is considered condescending in the workplace and what isn’t. Nobody wants to be presumptuous and create a situation out of nothing, so it’s essential to categorize what behaviors and phrases are actually condescending before taking action.

The following are examples of behaviors that are considered condescending in the workplace:

  1. Over-Explaining Information You Already Know. Although a coworker who explains information or a task to you can just be presenting thoughtful advice, it can be interpreted as condescending if it’s information you’re already well-versed on.

    For example, a coworker trying to tell you how to do a basic function of your job responsibilities that you’ve been doing for years would be considered patronizing.

  2. Generalizing Your Behavior. When someone generalizes your behavior, it means that they say things like “you’re always late to work” or “you never work overtime to complete projects.”

    It’s an overarching statement that can be received as a little offensive and condescending because it states that your actions are all or nothing when, in reality, nobody ever ‘always’ or ‘never’ behaves in a certain way.

  3. Interrupting When You’re Speaking. Interrupting someone when they’re speaking is a big sign of disrespect and is a pretty patronizing thing to do in the professional world. When you’re speaking, your coworker should actively listen until you’re finished to chime in with their opinion.

    Failure to give you the courtesy of speaking without being interrupted is definitely grounds for perceiving your coworker’s actions as condescending.

  4. Correcting Pronunciation. While this is another behavior that can simply be considered a helpful education, it can quickly go overboard and become patronizing. You shouldn’t be too sensitive to a coworker correcting your pronunciation of words, but if it becomes an ongoing issue, then it may be something you want to talk about with them.

  5. Telling You To “Chill Out” When You’re Upset. You have every right to be upset when you feel like a circumstance hasn’t gone in your favor, professionally.

    When someone tells you to calm down or chill out when you’re upset, it negates the validity of these feelings. It’s condescending for someone to dictate your feelings about a situation, as long as you’re acting respectfully.

  6. Degrading Or Inappropriate Nicknames. Nicknames are often not the most work-appropriate behavior to adopt, but sometimes they can be so bad that they’re considered patronizing and inappropriate.

    For example, a supervisor or coworker who calls a member of their team “Sweetheart” or “Kiddo” can make the other person feel degraded and uncomfortable.

Why Do People Patronize Others?

The first step to dealing with a difficult co-worker, particularly one who patronizes you, is to think about why people patronize others around them. Generally, patronization comes from a place of doubt within oneself. This feeling of insecurity is so overwhelming that they need to put themselves above the people around them.

Often, the perpetrator of workplace patronization won’t even be aware of the condescending tone they have. It can be an external subconscious response to internal turmoil. This means that if the issue is getting under your skin, it can be fixed through open and honest discussion a lot of the time.

4 Ways to Handle a Condescending Co-Worker

With the knowledge in mind of what a condescending nature looks like and where it comes from, you probably have a better idea if you’re experiencing this with your co-worker.

When a coworker is patronizing you, there are many ways you can go about handling the situation. Below are four possibilities that may be able to help.

  1. Know It’s Not About You. One way to ease the tension of having to deal with a patronizing coworker is to understand that it’s not personal. This person probably acts this way with the majority of people they come into contact with.

    If they’re so condescending to someone they work with professionally, imagine the interactions they have with the person who serves them their morning coffee.

    Coming to terms with the fact that their behavior and actions aren’t really about your work performance can make you more secure in your response. Perhaps, this knowledge gives you the clarification you need to simply move on and accept that the coworker is a pain.

    Even if you decide to take action about your coworker patronizing you, knowing that it’s not about you will keep your demeanor objective and unemotional.

  2. Evaluate Their Comments For Helpful Feedback. One way to handle a coworker whose patronizing you at work is by evaluating their comments to see if they present any valuable feedback.

    Even though every person you work with may not have the best communication skills, they still could give you some valuable insight. Before you lose your temper or decide to call them out for condescendingly delivering their feedback, consider the information they’re trying to communicate.

    Is a comment that seems like an over-explanation really trying to tune you into a function of your job that you haven’t been doing well?

    Although receiving negative feedback from coworkers can be a little annoying when it’s not asked for, it can still help you improve your performance.

  3. Ask For Further Explanation. An effective way to handle a condescending coworker and put them in their place is by asking for further explanation about the subject they’re touching on.

    For example, let’s say your coworker interrupts you while you’re speaking about a new project you’ve both been working on. You’re frustrated that they didn’t let you finish your thought and want to stop this behavior casually, without stooping to their level.

    You decide to combat their patronizing attitude by saying, “I understand your point, but why did you have to interrupt me to say that?”. Questioning their actions on the spot will leave them to reflect on how they’ve acted. The next time they’ll likely think twice before interrupting or acting condescendingly.

    Posing a friendly question for why they’ve behaved in a patronizing way on the spot is straightforward. It’s an excellent option to use when dealing with the first couple of times that you feel a coworker has treated you patronizingly. It makes them rethink their actions on the spot and can save you the headache of dealing with it later when it becomes a larger problem.

  4. Address Their Behavior With Them. If you’ve exhausted all your possibilities for how you can deal with the situation, and you are on the metaphorical edge, it’s time to talk with your coworker.

    It’s perfectly professional to discuss your feelings about how someone’s actions are affecting you. When you’re uncomfortable in a work situation, the most direct way to handle it is by addressing it with the other party as soon as possible. You don’t want to leave animosity hanging around your work environment to fester.

    Maintain a collected and composed standpoint when talking to someone about when you’ve felt patronized by them at work. Giving your coworker a defensive approach will likely send them into this mindset as well. Nothing good comes from two coworkers on the defensive who both think they’re in the right.

    It can also be beneficial to set up a meeting later to talk about the situation one-on-one. You don’t want the whole office involved in the confrontation. Setting an allotted time for a meeting also ensures that you’ll have the time to get everything off your chest.

Tips for Handling a Condescending Co-Worker

  1. Be Specific. Once you’ve decided to take action and discuss your co-worker’s behavior with them, it’s essential to be specific about the issues you’re experiencing. Don’t merely throw at your co-worker that they are patronizing. Have examples of times that you’ve experienced them being condescending towards you and why you felt that it was uncalled for.

    Specificity is crucial when addressing a co-worker’s undesirable behavior because it gives them references and can help them change their behavior in the future. Think about discussing a co-worker’s patronizing attitude as providing constructive feedback. You need to give them examples for them to know what they need to improve.

  2. Be Careful Not To Sound Patronizing Yourself. The irony of needing to discuss a co-worker’s condescending attitude is that sometimes, you can come off as patronizing because of how frustrated you are with the situation. You can avoid this by remaining calm, despite how the conversation is going, and sticking to logic.

    Adopting an amiable demeanor can also help bring up the points you want to speak about without building any resentment between you and your co-worker.

  3. Don’t Discuss It With Other Co-Workers. Engaging in office gossip is unprofessional. It will probably leave you looking like the bad guy when all is said and done. No matter what other people are doing, don’t discuss your difficulties with a particular co-worker to anyone else at your company, unless you’ve decided to speak with human resources or a supervisor.

  4. Prepare For Any Outcome. You never know how your co-worker will react to you bringing up that they’ve been acting condescending towards you. Prepare for the reality that could have a very negative response to this discussion. Many people will jump to anger when they’re confronted with unpleasant criticism.

    Be ready to handle any reaction you may receive from your co-worker with professionalism.

  5. Be Friendly. The tone of your conversation with your co-worker is strongly dictated by how you present the subject. Presenting yourself as friendly and approachable will make the other party more willing to hear what you have to say.

    Even though you’re in a situation where you find yourself uncomfortable or annoyed with your co-worker’s behavior, try to display kindness when discussing this with them.

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Sky Ariella

Sky Ariella is a professional freelance writer, originally from New York. She has been featured on websites and online magazines covering topics in career, travel, and lifestyle. She received her BA in psychology from Hunter College.

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