13 Ways To Handle Condescending Coworkers (With Benefits)

Updated February 3, 2023

Learning how to maintain positive relationships with your coworkers can improve your productivity and help you enjoy work more. Regardless of the type of institution that you work for, the ability to communicate and interact effectively with your colleagues can have a direct impact on your work results. Learning how to manage these situations may also help to improve your job satisfaction.

In this article, we discuss the benefits of dealing with condescending coworkers and provide actionable steps on how to do so.

Benefits of dealing with condescending coworkers

These are some of the most important benefits of improving relationships with condescending coworkers:

  • Shows respect: Handling these situations well shows all your colleagues that you are the type of professional and person who offers respect to the people around them, but also requires the same level of respect from everyone else.

  • Bonds the team: It can strengthen a team's bond, as everyone is reminded that they are all on equal terms.

  • Improve team behavior: You can point out the inappropriate behavior of a colleague that doesn't realize it, helping them change their approach to workplace situations.

  • Helps others: It can help other team members affected by their respective behaviors and who do not have the knowledge or position to say what they feel.

  • Improves your reputation: It can establish your position as a team mediator, which may prove to be a professional advantage in the future.

Related: How To Be a Great Coworker

13 steps for handling condescending coworkers

Consider following these steps when presented with such a scenario:

1. Keep in mind that it is a purely professional situation

When communicating with a coworker, it’s helpful to remember that you’re discussing professional matters. While a comment or behavior from a coworker may seem personal, separating your professional life from your personal life can help you to interact more effectively with a variety of people at work. This can also give you the mental clarity to respond to your coworker in an appropriate way.

Related: How To Develop a Professional Attitude

2. Identify the elements of their behavior

Before discussing the issue with your colleague, observe them for a period of time and identify specific instances and situations in which their behavior can objectively be considered as being inappropriate. This can include various comments, actions and other elements of behavior. Having a detailed account of such instances can show your coworker that you put some time and energy into this situation.

Related: How To Communicate Better With Coworkers

3. Consider the level of truth in their remarks

If you avoid taking the situation personally, you can also analyze what your coworker said and see if their remarks are at least partially true. Although they didn't deliver their message in a constructive way, some of it may contain constructive feedback that you can use to improve your workplace results. Even if you don't find any truth in your remarks, analyzing them can provide you with logical arguments to defuse them.

4. Keep a positive attitude

Although most such behaviors and remarks are products of a negative attitude, try not to replicate that attitude and instead be as positive and upbeat as you can. Remember that being angry and generally having a negative attitude, even when provoked, isn’t likely to solve the situation. Working on keeping a positive attitude in difficult situations can give you the mental clarity you need to successfully navigate them.

5. Respond in a calm manner

When responding to a colleague who is condescending, it’s important to stay calm. If this is a recurring event, consider preparing responses so you can respond unemotionally. For example, if a colleague interrupts you to say something extremely similar to your idea, you could respond: 

Sounds like we’re on the same page. Thanks for your comment.

After a colleague says something that bothers you, consider taking a breath and using the time to think about how you can professionally respond. Use an even tone to respond to the comment and ensure your body language is appropriate.

6. Speak to them about it

After analyzing their remarks and succeeding in keeping a calm and positive attitude, you need to directly tell the coworker that their attitude is inappropriate. You should ask to speak to them in private, as this kind of conversation tends to be more effective if no other people participate. Before outlining the situation, you should firmly let them know that your intention is not to criticize or attack them, but rather to create an open and healthy relationship between the two of you.

Use a professional tone and language, focusing more on telling them how their words or behavior impacted you, rather than directly discussing their actions. This way, there's a bigger chance that your colleague won't feel defensive and understand that the issue is how others are impacted by their behavior. Regardless of their answer, try to remain calm and committed to establishing a new foundation for your professional relationship.

Related: 10 Tips for Getting Along With Coworkers

7. Ask them to elaborate on their comments

Another way you can handle a condescending colleague is by asking them to elaborate on their comment or explain why they said it. This can help you understand their intentions to ensure you aren’t making assumptions. Some professionals may not realize they’re being condescending, so asking them to elaborate can give them the opportunity to use a more professional tone when speaking.

You can also ask for clarification in case your actions prompted your colleague to assume something about you. For example, if a colleague is explaining a concept to you that you already understand, consider responding with a phrase such as:

I understand this concept. Did I do something that made you believe otherwise?

8. Prepare for resistance

Keep in mind there's a significant chance that the coworker won't immediately agree that their behavior is inappropriate. Prepare for them to contradict you and calmly make your argument, as you have had more time to construct your arguments than them. If you calmly and professionally resolve their objections one at a time, you improve your odds of your coworker eventually agreeing that their behavior needs to change.

9. Mention what you appreciate about them

Your coworker also needs to understand that your issues are not with everything they do and say. You can keep the conversation positive by outlining the things that you value about them, which could include both professional and personal traits. This can show your coworker that your issues are not personal and that you can be objective in your assessment of them.

Related: Ideas and Tips for Giving Praise in the Workplace

10. Try to approach each issue individually

If your coworker admits that some elements of their behavior have been inappropriate, you can try to address those elements one at a time, as mentioning them all at once may make your coworker personally uncomfortable and defensive. Discussing a single issue can help them focus and be genuinely interested in solving it.

11. Ask a supervisor for help

If calmly addressing the issues with your coworker hasn't helped and if the issue is affecting your work output, you should discuss it with your direct supervisor. As a manager, handling interoffice communication issues is a major part of their job and they usually have the authority to immediately take action. Just like when discussing the issue with your coworker, describe the specific situations in which your coworker displayed the behavior. Try to emphasize your desire for a positive resolution to help your supervisor create a peaceful solution to the problem.

Related: Pros and Cons To Consider When Becoming Friends With Coworkers

12. Document interactions

If a coworker is consistently acting unprofessional toward you, you might consider documenting the interactions. This can help if you plan on speaking with HR about the incidents. Consider documenting what they said or did, the date of the interaction and any possible witnesses. If the HR department decides to investigate, they can use this information to understand your perspective and gather more details about the interactions between you and your colleague.

Related: What To Do if You Feel Threatened at Work (With Tips)

13. Monitor your mental health

Working with a condescending colleague can impact your mental health and self-esteem. Try to remember that when a professional is acting inappropriately toward you, it’s more likely a reflection of their character than yours. It may be helpful to speak to a friend about your trouble to receive reassurance and support. Try to ensure you stay mentally healthy despite your situation at work by eating regularly and sleeping well.

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