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How to Deal with a Condescending Boss

by | Jul 3, 2012 | General Career Advice

This is one thing I hear a lot about in my free coaching calls: The dreaded condescending superior.

It seems this particular conflict runs rampant in the business world and today, I’m going to provide a few simple strategies for dealing with the boss who always thinks he (or she) knows better.

First off, it’s important to recognize that “condescension” is usually a tone of voice more than anything. Often, the person’s words aren’t even the problem. It’s just an overall sense that you’re being spoken down to—like you’re a child or a brand new employee who has no idea what she’s doing.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Here are a few ways to explore the problem and resolve it in a professional manner.

1. Step Back and Reassess

Start by giving your boss the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this is all a misunderstanding. Maybe you’re being a little (dare I say it) sensitive? After all, this is business. People aren’t always as kind and gentle as we’d like them to be. Busy executives can be abrupt. They’re focused on facts, not necessarily feelings. Step back from the situation and look at it with an honest, unbiased point-of-view. Is this really a problem…or should you perhaps focus on building a tougher shell?

2. Focus on Face-to-Face

Again, let’s give your boss the benefit of the doubt: Maybe you’re misinterpreting the tone. It’s easy to do, especially at the beginning of a new working relationship. Try to interact face-to-face as much as possible. Tone can be difficult to read over email and over the phone. Even when you know someone very well, signals can get crossed. When you speak one-on-one and in-person, you’re less likely to misinterpret what’s going on.

3. Call Attention to It

Sometimes, even the most self-aware people in the world are completely unaware of the impact they’re having on others. Perhaps your boss is so wrapped up in his own world, he doesn’t hear the condescension in his voice. Sometimes a tactful, non-confrontational discussion can help call attention to the matter. Practice what you’ll say ahead of time so you don’t find yourself getting emotional. Be specific about what’s happening and how it’s impacting your work. Then, ask for the specific change you’d like to see.

4. Remember: It’s THEIR Issue, Not Yours

Look, most of the time, things like this aren’t really about YOU. So instead of taking it personally, try to consider for a moment what’s going on for your boss. What’s causing this behavior? Does he perhaps feel threatened by you in some way? Does he have a self-esteem issue that causes him to put others down so he can feel better about himself? You might uncover something that makes the behavior a little easier to put up with or just ignore altogether. Sometimes people have annoying character traits that don’t serve them well, but there’s nothing you can do to change them. Just remember: It’s their issue, not yours. Take comfort in the fact that, if you see it, others see it too. And this kind of behavior will hold them back in life and in their career at some point.

5. Keep Your Cool

Focus on yourself and maintaining your composure, even when you feel put down. Be the bigger person. Don’t let someone else’s bad attitude ruin your day or your self-worth. Consider this practice. We all have to deal with difficult people in the workplace. You’re getting some great experience here! Remember the old saying, “Kill ‘em with kindness.” Sometimes, nothing feels better than responding to rudeness with a smile and warm-hearted compassion. And it often shifts the other person’s behavior as well.

6. Demonstrate Your Capability

Okay, maybe your condescending boss really thinks you’re kind of an idiot. Too bad for him. You’ve got this job and there’s a reason you’re here. Step up to the plate and prove him completely 100% WRONG. Demonstrate your knowledge and capability through your actions. Let the mean attitude and tone of voice roll off your back, knowing that you’ve got the upper hand. By consistently doing your best, he’ll have no choice but to see his error in judgment.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact, there’s nothing harder than really working your buns off for someone who doesn’t believe in you. But you know what? There are plenty of people who DO believe in you out there. So do it for them.

You deserve to be seen for who you are and what you offer. If someone—a boss or anyone else—doesn’t treat you with the respect you deserve, give it a fair shot. Follow the tips above and help them understand your value and how you want to be treated. But of course, recognize when it’s time to move on as well. You can’t force someone to treat you the right way. All you can do is try. If that doesn’t work, go find someone who supports you and doesn’t tear you down.

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About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and certified Professional Career Manager (PCM). She is an author, in-demand presenter and international speaker known for engaging, entertaining, educating and empowering audiences of all sizes and backgrounds. Learn more here.

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