Don’t patronise me: How to handle condescending language


Who hasn’t bridled at being spoken to condescendingly? A subtle form of bullying, being patronised can leave you feeling infuriated and impotent. It’s a type of behaviour that cuts across generations. An older person can talk down to a younger colleague, but it can just as easily happen the other way around. Men can patronise women at work and vice versa. But what they have in common is power play, with one individual exerting their authority or seniority over another.

What does condescending or patronising behaviour look like in the workplace? Aggression such as shouting, yelling and belittling comments are all obvious signs of condescension. However, people are sometimes condescending in more subtle ways, such as talking about people behind their backs or making fun of colleagues in the form of jokes. If this is happening regularly, point it out to the person. You can also help to avoid it by fostering an environment that discourages gossip, making jokes about coworkers, etc.

So how do you deal with it?

Although it’s tempting to give the offender a piece of your mind, remaining calm is the best response. Flying off the handle only makes the other person believe that their behaviour is justified. Also, be careful not to reply to a condescending person with more condescension. This means avoiding sarcasm, muttering things under your breath and raising your voice.

Ignoring the perpetrator is often the best approach. If you don’t give them the satisfaction of knowing that they have irritated you, they might simply stop being condescending. Selective deafness is always an option. One suggestion made to an online forum was to ask the offender to repeat themselves over and again. Each time they do so, they sound more and more ridiculous. 

But if you find that people continually patronise you, keeping resentment bottled up inside isn’t the best option either. Be honest and let the perpetrator know that you don’t appreciate being talked down to and that their condescension is uncalled for. They might not even be aware they were doing it. Watch your body language when confronting someone: finger pointing, crossing your arms, rolling your eyes or standing over the person while they are seated won’t do you any favours in resolving the situation.

If the belittling behaviour continues, however, it’s best to seek advice from a supervisor or another HR professional. Ideally, you will have supporting evidence such as condescending emails to back up your claims. You might want to set up a face-to-face meeting to address the issue, with a supervisor there as a mediator.

Here are some useful comebacks. Like so many things in life, the context is all-important.

  1. “Are you done? Can we move on?”
  2. “If you continue to insinuate that I am unintelligent, we won’t be able to work together.” (And then follow through on your warning.)
  3. “Grow up”.

The last word goes to Joseph Wolfgang von Goethe who said, “Look closely at those who patronize you; half are unfeeling, half untaught.”  Make sure you’re not among the unfeeling or clueless and help educate – and reign in – your colleagues who are.

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Heh
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Heh

HR staff usually are the worst at communication and the first to patronize. I sued the last HR staffer that didn’t know her place. She is now living on welfare, which is where she deserves to be. I enjoyed it. Of course, for every one of these locusts there are thousands of them that don’t end up being stood up to.

It’s HR that needs the lessons dispensed to, not the other way around — which is the problem. We have unskilled pencil pushers who think they are completely untouchable…until they find out they are. And they don’t take it well.

America Amaro
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America Amaro

True comment, they get what they deserve, I’m totally in agreement.

Nicky Mann
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Nicky Mann

“Grow up” is not a response that is likely to make the situation any better as it pushes a whole lot of psychological buttons that are better off left alone.

Emma
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Emma

I don’t agree with the ‘useful’ comebacks suggested in this article, number 2 is probably the most useful, however the others seem quite childish. A more appropriate response could be “I don’t appreciate the way you’re speaking with me, your manner seems quite patronising to me. Let’s have this conversation at another time”.

liz
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liz

It is very difficult to respond to patronising comments. I often find it a bit of a surprise as we have come such a long way. However finding a respond that will both make you feel heard and confident that it wont happen again, is important. Emma’s response it pretty good. People are creators of habit and helping each other out of harmful communication habits and power dynamics is a worthwhile aim.
We all have the right to feel valued and respected at work.

1 2 3
More on HRM

Don’t patronise me: How to handle condescending language


Who hasn’t bridled at being spoken to condescendingly? A subtle form of bullying, being patronised can leave you feeling infuriated and impotent. It’s a type of behaviour that cuts across generations. An older person can talk down to a younger colleague, but it can just as easily happen the other way around. Men can patronise women at work and vice versa. But what they have in common is power play, with one individual exerting their authority or seniority over another.

What does condescending or patronising behaviour look like in the workplace? Aggression such as shouting, yelling and belittling comments are all obvious signs of condescension. However, people are sometimes condescending in more subtle ways, such as talking about people behind their backs or making fun of colleagues in the form of jokes. If this is happening regularly, point it out to the person. You can also help to avoid it by fostering an environment that discourages gossip, making jokes about coworkers, etc.

So how do you deal with it?

Although it’s tempting to give the offender a piece of your mind, remaining calm is the best response. Flying off the handle only makes the other person believe that their behaviour is justified. Also, be careful not to reply to a condescending person with more condescension. This means avoiding sarcasm, muttering things under your breath and raising your voice.

Ignoring the perpetrator is often the best approach. If you don’t give them the satisfaction of knowing that they have irritated you, they might simply stop being condescending. Selective deafness is always an option. One suggestion made to an online forum was to ask the offender to repeat themselves over and again. Each time they do so, they sound more and more ridiculous. 

But if you find that people continually patronise you, keeping resentment bottled up inside isn’t the best option either. Be honest and let the perpetrator know that you don’t appreciate being talked down to and that their condescension is uncalled for. They might not even be aware they were doing it. Watch your body language when confronting someone: finger pointing, crossing your arms, rolling your eyes or standing over the person while they are seated won’t do you any favours in resolving the situation.

If the belittling behaviour continues, however, it’s best to seek advice from a supervisor or another HR professional. Ideally, you will have supporting evidence such as condescending emails to back up your claims. You might want to set up a face-to-face meeting to address the issue, with a supervisor there as a mediator.

Here are some useful comebacks. Like so many things in life, the context is all-important.

  1. “Are you done? Can we move on?”
  2. “If you continue to insinuate that I am unintelligent, we won’t be able to work together.” (And then follow through on your warning.)
  3. “Grow up”.

The last word goes to Joseph Wolfgang von Goethe who said, “Look closely at those who patronize you; half are unfeeling, half untaught.”  Make sure you’re not among the unfeeling or clueless and help educate – and reign in – your colleagues who are.

23
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Heh
Guest
Heh

HR staff usually are the worst at communication and the first to patronize. I sued the last HR staffer that didn’t know her place. She is now living on welfare, which is where she deserves to be. I enjoyed it. Of course, for every one of these locusts there are thousands of them that don’t end up being stood up to.

It’s HR that needs the lessons dispensed to, not the other way around — which is the problem. We have unskilled pencil pushers who think they are completely untouchable…until they find out they are. And they don’t take it well.

America Amaro
Guest
America Amaro

True comment, they get what they deserve, I’m totally in agreement.

Nicky Mann
Guest
Nicky Mann

“Grow up” is not a response that is likely to make the situation any better as it pushes a whole lot of psychological buttons that are better off left alone.

Emma
Guest
Emma

I don’t agree with the ‘useful’ comebacks suggested in this article, number 2 is probably the most useful, however the others seem quite childish. A more appropriate response could be “I don’t appreciate the way you’re speaking with me, your manner seems quite patronising to me. Let’s have this conversation at another time”.

liz
Guest
liz

It is very difficult to respond to patronising comments. I often find it a bit of a surprise as we have come such a long way. However finding a respond that will both make you feel heard and confident that it wont happen again, is important. Emma’s response it pretty good. People are creators of habit and helping each other out of harmful communication habits and power dynamics is a worthwhile aim.
We all have the right to feel valued and respected at work.

1 2 3
More on HRM