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Feeling talked down to? Here's how to deal with a condescending boss

Feeling talked down to? Here's how to deal with a condescending boss

  • What are examples of condescending behavior in the workplace?
  • How can condescension harm your career?
  • How can you stay calm when bosses condescend?
  • How should you tell bosses to stop condescending?
  • Key takeaways

It can be hard to deal with a condescending boss. We look at how to keep your cool when you’re feeling talked down to and build more respectful relations with them.

Not all bosses are saints and not all employee/employer relationships start healthy. No matter what industry you work in, always be ready for bosses who talk down to you, belittle you, or disrespect the work you do. If you feel like you don’t know how to deal with a condescending boss, consult this guide to learn about topics such as:

  • Ways bosses can condescend

  • How condescension can be harmful

  • Keeping cool when bosses condescend

  • Learning why a boss is condescending

  • Building better relations with a condescending boss

What are examples of condescending behavior in the workplace?

Some bosses will be blatant with their condescension: mocking you when you admit there’s something you don’t know, refusing to assign you a project because “you’re not ready for that responsibility,” and so on. Other forms of condescension can be more subtle and all the more frustrating for it. If you’re not sure whether your boss’s behavior counts as being condescending, keep an eye out for these red flags:

  • Your boss talks down to you with simple language or layman's terms

  • Your boss keeps micromanaging and doesn’t let you complete tasks unsupervised

  • Your boss over-explains topics you already understand

  • Your boss vocally doubts your ability to get certain tasks done because of workplace ageism, country of origin, educational background, etc.

  • Your boss’s tone of voice is abrasive when they talk to you–too cheerful, too aggressive, too sarcastic, or too doubtful

How can condescension harm your career?

Being talked down to is annoying and that’s reason enough to not want your boss to act condescending. In the long run, condescension can lead to career anxiety and damage your drive to self-improve. If your boss disrespects you no matter how hard you work, what’s the point in doing more than the minimum?

Even if you can tolerate a boss’s condescension, their disrespectful behavior can still stress you out and damage your focus. Left unchecked, that stress could lead to work burnout, mistakes, or moments where you lash out at your boss with harsh words; any of these could lead to you getting fired or losing opportunities to advance.

To avoid these bad outcomes, you’ll need to learn how to keep cool around condescending bosses in the short term and get them to change their behavior in the long term.

How can you stay calm when bosses condescend?

If a boss is being condescending, make sure you don’t escalate the situation. Loudly criticizing your boss for their bad attitude might feel good, but will probably only antagonize them in the long run. A boss whose pride is wounded by your criticism might even double down on their condescending behavior! Keep yourself from losing your temper with calming techniques such as deep breathing, self-affirming mantras, or simply stepping outside and going for a walk. Also, don’t be too quick to write your boss off as a jerk. They might be acting condescending for non-spiteful reasons such as:

  • They don’t realize their behavior/tone of voice is harsh and comes across as condescending.

  • They got a bad first impression of you and assumed you’re less capable than you are.

  • They might be under a lot of stress that’s affecting their behavior in negative ways.

  • They were taught bad lessons about leadership and how to motivate employees.

Observe your boss’s general behavior in the workplace; if they come across as reasonable when they’re talking to others, they might be willing to change the way they treat you if you give feedback respectfully and ask for feedback in turn.

How should you tell bosses to stop condescending?

If you want to sit down with your boss and call them out on their condescending behavior, do so tactfully in a private one-on-one conversation. Start by thanking them for the help they’ve given you during your time at the workplace. Next, offer non-judgemental feedback. Avoid language that implies they made a mistake or tried to be cruel to you on purpose. Instead, describe how their behavior made you feel.

Let’s look at a few sample phrases to open a dialogue with a condescending boss:

  • “I understand you’ve been frustrated with my work recently. Do you have suggestions for how I could refine my work process?”

  • “I appreciate your help, but I want to be able to complete these tasks independently and with less supervision. What would be the best way to achieve that?”

  • “I’ve been getting the impression that you’re angry with me. Did I say or do something to offend you?”

If your boss genuinely considers your feedback and shows personal integrity, the two of you should be able to talk out your differences and work out a fair solution or compromise to improve the situation. 

If you’re worried your boss won’t change their condescending behavior, think about looking for a new job using services like Career.io’s Job Search Strategy and Job Tracker tools.

Key takeaways

  1. Condescension from your boss is stressful and can harm your productivity over time.

  2. Before confronting bosses about their condescending behavior, try to figure out if they're acting that way on purpose.

  3. When you call out bosses on their condescending behavior, use non-judgemental phrases centered around how their behavior makes you feel.

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