7 ways to manage a condescending employee

Employers should be adept at flagging employees who routinely demonstrate this problematic attitude

7 ways to manage a condescending employee

Every kind of workplace is bound to have a few condescending employees who seem to love causing tensions between co-workers to flare up.

With this in mind, human resource professionals should be adept at identifying and flagging the tell-tale signs of employees or managers who continuously condescend on others to prevent problematic issues from arising.

Read more: The importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace

How to spot condescending behavior in the workplace

Most dictionaries define “condescension” as an attitude of patronizing superiority, with the intent to make people feel bad. And unsurprisingly, this kind of attitude in the workplace could lead to employees doubting their skills and abilities – which will ultimately impact productivity.

Condescension can be expressed through many different types of actions – some more obvious than others. The following are some examples of workplace behaviors that are considered condescending:

  1. Over-explaining unnecessary information

A typical example of condescension is when an employee or manager continuously explains information or instructions to their co-workers even when it isn’t needed or has already been discussed.

Admittedly, in some instances the employee doing the explaining may genuinely want to help others – but co-workers can interpret it as being condescending, especially if it is in an area that the co-worker is an expert in.

  1. Name-dropping

Sometimes employees want to share an experience they had with a famous person – for example, being seated next to a famous singer at the dentist or being high school classmates with a senator. It is okay to share the excitement of the experience but telling the story in a condescending tone, especially when mentioning the famous person has no contribution to the conversation, can seem like the employee is trying to show off their connections as more important.

  1. Using demeaning nicknames like “boss” or “sweetie”

Using nicknames like boss, sweetie, honey, or chief in a professional workplace may be looked upon as inappropriate and demeaning. Employees who use general nicknames like these may be perceived as condescending or disrespecting the co-worker or manager’s ability. Using gender-exclusive nicknames – such as calling a female manager or teammate “sweetheart” – can also come off as a sexist comment which can create a rift between professional relations and even a formal complaint if it continues.

Read more: Essential soft skills to become a great leader

  1. Interrupting others when speaking

Interrupting someone who is speaking – either during formal meetings or coffee break banter – is disrespectful and makes the speaker feel unheard and disregarded. Additionally, doing this makes everyone involved in the conversation uncomfortable and could portray the employee as rude and narcissistic.

  1. Equating their experiences to others’

An employee or manager who tends to share and relate their personal experience while a co-worker vents their frustration out can seem selfish and belittle the feelings of the co-worker. This paints the employee as condescending and can make their co-workers avoid them in the workplace.

How to manage a condescending employee

It may be difficult to stop condescending behavior from happening in the workforce but there are steps employees can take to manage a condescending employee.

  1. Don’t take things personally

When encountering a situation involving condescension, employees and leaders should remind affected workers not to let comments get to them. If they let the comments get to them, it could trigger a fear response that makes employees act based on emotions instead of making rational and logical decisions.

Employees who allow the person’s comment to affect them will start feeling defensive and lash out – which most likely is what the person wanted all along. It is advisable for anyone put on the spot to stay calm and ignore the comment to avoid further conflict.

  1. Evaluate the comment for constructive feedback

Once an employee has stepped back and calmed down from the condescending comment made by a co-worker, they can evaluate the comment for any insightful feedback that could help them improve as an employee.

It may come off as rude and demeaning but trying to understand the main topic of feedback could give insight on an aspect the employee could improve on. For example, a co-worker who constantly shares comments throughout the day on the layout of a poster design may seem condescending but actually points out an area on the design that could be sharpened to be better. Receiving negative feedback may be frustrating, especially if it was delivered rudely, but it can still help the employee improve their output.

  1. Always neutralize your body language

Aside from ensuring employees and managers do not respond irrationally or defensively to a condescending comment, maintaining positive body language helps avoid any conflict and misunderstanding.

Keeping non-hostile expressions and neutral postures when confronting the condescending employee helps create a safe environment where both parties can express themselves freely without the fear of being judged. Pointing fingers, rolling eyes, banging the desk, and crossing arms are some gestures to avoid as they can create a hostile environment. Instead, co-workers, managers, and HR representatives should stand straight, make eye contact, use a calm tone of voice, and hold their ground physically and mentally during the conversation.

  1. Have an open conversation

A good way to address condescending behavior in the workplace is to have a conversation with the employee. Employees can calmly and professionally set a time to have a proper conversation with the condescending co-worker without making a scene. They should use the opportunity to point out how their behavior is affecting others and the work environment.

If the behavior continues, employees should document all the instances and present them to the proper manager or HR representative. The manager can then schedule a discussion with the condescending employee to understand what is causing the behavior. If the problem continues and is significantly affecting the workplace and the mental health of others, then the HR representative may take appropriate disciplinary action.

  1. Ask for clarification

Having a diverse workforce means that many workers come from different practices and cultures. Therefore, what may seem like an appropriate and innocent tone may be disrespectful to someone from a different background.

When a co-worker makes a comment that comes off as rude, employees can ask for further clarification on what the statement means. Asking for clarification can eliminate any misunderstanding and allow the condescending employee to explain their side. For example, an employee may keep bringing up a working reminder that makes their co-worker feel like they are not trusted to remember the reminder. Asking for clarification on what the employee means can reveal that they constantly bring up the reminder because they are confused about what to do and wants advice from their co-worker.

  1. Set an example

A healthy work environment can influence employees’ behavior. To achieve this, anyone in the organization should be a model of good behavior towards one another. Employees, managers, and HR leaders should set the tone for acceptable behavior in the workplace so that colleagues can follow suit, especially the new hires.

  1. Educate employees and managers

The organization can provide learning tools like training programs for their employees of all rankings on handling condescending behavior in the workplace. This helps them identify signs and how to manage them depending on the situation.

Providing other education tools such as refreshers on company policies, workshops on communication and seminars on managing people can help lessen the instances of condescension in the workplace. Investing in the development of employees and managers can be a good move for organizations in the long run as it can prevent any workplace conflict that could be costly and damaging for the company.

Anyone in the company can receive a condescending comment. Catching the signs before it becomes a habit and addressing them early on is a great step employers can take to minimize the risk of offending others and lessen office conflicts.

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