How To Deal With Someone Who Talks Down To You
Nobody likes to be patronized. But there are a lot of individuals out there who, for whatever reason—insecurity, a self-worth complex, anger issues, bullied in high school—are regularly condescending to the people they encounter. Perhaps you deal with someone like this every day, whether in a coworker, a landlord, a coffee shop barista, or a neighbor. You dread interactions with this person because you feel they somehow use their conversations with you to feel powerful. And you know they feel anything but—you know they feel insecure and need to patronize to feel better because it is them who seek out these interactions with you. You find yourself wondering, “If they apparently think I’m so dumb, then why do they keep talking to me?” It’s because, truly, they feel bad on the inside and making others feel bad makes them feel better. But that’s their problem; not yours. Here is how to deal with a condescending person.
Cut them off
This person is already being rude to you so you don’t owe them the courtesy of being polite by listening. Just completely interrupt them, mid-sentence, even if it feels odd. Interrupt them and bring up something else entirely. Or, interrupt and say, “I was actually in a rush and can’t talk right now.” It will totally derail them. You don’t need to politely wait until a rude person is finished talking. Interrupt.
They get their power by having your attention, so don’t give it. Look at your phone. Wander around the room, attending to other tasks. Read some mail. If they ask, “Are you listening?” say “Uh-huh” but do something that clearly indicates you are not. It will throw them off their game to feel as if they have to fight to have your attention. It will force them to be more respectful if they want your attention.
Bring them down a peg
Interrupt this person to point out something embarrassing, but act like you’re doing them a favor. Stop them and say, “Sorry real quick—you have something in your teeth.” It will totally stop them in their tracks. It’s a great way to deal with petty coworkers.
Ask if they’re okay
Gently put your hand on their shoulder (a total power move, by the way, that suggests you are the one in control), interrupt them, and ask, “Sorry to interrupt but, are you okay? You seem irritated. Just from your tone. Do you need to talk about something?” It completely flips the script and brings the negative focus on their behavior.
If someone is explaining something to you in a condescending manner—let’s say they’re explaining how to write a paragraph well—you can say something like, “Yes, we actually learned that when I studied it in the creative writing program at NYU the summer I won their short stories contest.” Or something like that. Make them feel so dumb for trying to teach the expert.
Call them out
If it’s appropriate in this type of conversation to call the person out, just do so. If it’s a boss, you have to be delicate, but if it’s a cashier, barista, neighbor, coworker, or landlord, you can just say, “I don’t really appreciate your tone. Do you realize you’re talking down to me? Why do you think that would be useful?” Give them questions they clearly cannot answer.
Protest the conversation
You can also say, “I don’t really feel like talking to you while you’re behaving like this. I’m going to go, but when you’re ready to stop acting like this, we can talk again.”
Show off your knowledge
If someone is talking to you as if you are completely uneducated on a matter about which you actually know plenty, you can just stop them and let them know. You can say, “You don’t have to speak to me like I’m clueless on this subject. I actually know all about insert facts here so you can talk to me like an equal.”
Flip the script again by lecturing this person on their tone. You’ll instantly make them feel embarrassed and uncomfortable—the way they were making you feel. You can let them know, “It’s actually considered very in appropriate/rude/out-of-date to talk to someone the way you are now. I’m surprised you don’t know that. Have you been living under a rock? I hope for your sake you don’t talk to other people like this.”
Get in power if you can
If it’s a landlord who is talking down to you while you ask for repairs, you can just bring the city in to inspect the matter. Then the landlord might be a little nicer to you. If it’s a coworker talking down to you, petition to get some upper hand on this coworker—maybe you can be the shift supervisor and now this coworker must report to you.
Ask if you two have a problem
This shines the light on this person’s tone. Just interrupt them and say, “Excuse me but, I have to ask—do we have a problem? The way you’re speaking to me would indicate you’re upset with me about something. Did I do something?” Then they’ll have to say, “No, I’m just frustrated…” and realize they’re acting like a big baby.
Know someone who this person would never want to upset? Know someone who this person would hope to impress? Mention that you know that person. They’ll think twice about being rude to you, as you may bring a bad report back to that person they admire.
Repeat their words back
Sometimes simply repeating someone’s words back to them shows them how out of line they are being. So if they ask, “Did you understand the note I wrote you?” you can ask, “Do you mean did I understand the note about refilling the printer ink? Something I do every week? Is that what you meant? Or do you mean another note?”
Do you need to take a break?
This is another way to point out that this person is throwing a tantrum, without saying as much. Do that condescending hand on the arm thing again and say, “You seem worked up. Do you need to take a break before we resume this conversation? Maybe you need a snack or something.”
Remind them of their mistakes
Condescending people tend to forget that they aren’t perfect, and that you can instantly recall many embarrassing mistakes they’ve made. So when they say something condescending to you, you can say, “That’s true. But I’m sure you can understand how that happens because it’s very much like that time you insert their embarrassing mistake here.”