It seems like there’s one in every workplace. In every family. In every peer group. There’s always that one person who just rubs you wrong with everything they say and do. You tell them they’re being condescending, but they just dismiss you with even more condescension.
A condescending person is someone who behaves in a way that conveys that they think they are superior to others. Their tone and words are often patronizing.
The message is clear: They’re right, you’re wrong, and they know it. At least, that’s what they seem to think.
Dealing with condescending people is frustrating. No one likes to be spoken to like they’re stupid or inferior, and yet condescending people excel at this. They push all your buttons because they’re deep into feeling their own (imagined) superiority.
Patronizing vs Condescending
There’s a difference between being patronizing and condescending, although many people seem to be experts at both. When someone is patronizing, they condescend with apparent kindness. For instance, explaining something to someone patiently when you know they already know it is patronizing.
Condescending, on the other hand, is more direct. It doesn’t come cloaked in kindness. Both words and behaviors communicate the fact that the condescending person thinks they’re better, smarter, and more successful than other people.
Condescending and patronizing behavior can come packaged together. Mansplaining is one such example. Women don’t need to be informed about the experience of women, and yet mansplaining does just that. It’s patronizing sometimes when it comes in the guise of help, but it’s condescending when it implies that men naturally know better. It’s the two-for-one deal where you get both sides of this inappropriate treatment.
15 Signs of a Condescending Person
There are many signs of a condescending person. You’ve probably already thought of someone in your life who meets the criteria — before you’ve even read the list. We’ve all known people like this — and some of us have been this person. Let’s take a look.
They Think They’re Smarter Than Everyone Else
You’ll spot a condescending person because they think they’re smarter than everyone else — and don’t hesitate to hide that opinion. They love to hear their own voice and often use every possible opportunity to share their perceived expertise. They like to remind everyone of their credentials, and if they don’t have any, they’re sure to tell you how all their life experience has made them smarter (read: better) than everyone else.
They Interrupt Often to Get Their Point Across
They are guilty of interrupting often to hijack the conversation and make it about them. If you’re wrong, they’re quick to correct you. If you’re right, they’re right-er. You get the picture. They keep inserting themselves into the conversation, talking over you, and making sure that everyone involved knows that they’re the most knowledgeable on any subject.
They Lack Emotional Intelligence
A person who is condescending lacks emotional intelligence. They don’t always realize that they’re failing to impress everyone with their actions. They may not have a clue that their behavior is driving others away. They can’t read the room because they’re more focused on their internal dialogue and perceptions than any situational awareness. They step on other people's toes often because they aren’t watching where they’re going or who they’re walking over to get there.
They Hold Everyone to Their Own Standards
The problem is that a condescending person genuinely believes that they are the benchmark. They hold everyone to their own standards and seem confused that everyone else can’t work as hard, be as smart, or have the same advantages they do. They are incapable of acknowledging privilege and sincerely believe that other people are lazy, entitled, or somehow deficient in comparison.
They’re Arrogant with Narcissistic Tendencies
The condescending person is completely arrogant. They really think they’re better than other people, and they display many narcissistic tendencies including thinking only of themselves. Everything filters through that mindset, and it’s no wonder they set your teeth on edge every time they open their mouths.
They Communicate Judgment Rather Than Empathy
Someone who is condescending is always judging you, never empathizing with your experience. You know they think you can do better … because they’re said it … out loud. They won’t put themselves in your shoes and try to imagine what it must be like for you. They’re putting you in their shoes and imagining what they would do (read: better than you).
They’re Terrible Listeners
You’ll also note that someone who is condescending is a terrible listener. They’re too busy planning what they’re going to say next to listen to what you’re contributing. They’re also bad about hearing what they want to hear in order to continue the silent dialogue they’re having in their head. There’s no point trying to persuade them of anything. Their minds are made up, and they aren’t really listening anyway.
They Brag About Their Many Achievements
Can you list their accomplishments better even than your own? That’s not surprising given the condescending person takes every opportunity to remind you of their achievements. They don’t humble brag. They just brag. Even the most insignificant achievement is touted as if it was the Nobel Peace Prize.
They Think They Work Harder Than Everyone Else
They legitimately think they work harder than you, but don’t feel bad. They think they work harder than everyone. It might be true — or it might not be. The important thing is that’s the way they perceive it. If they do anything over the minimum, they want to be recognized, appreciated, and celebrated for it, but the funny thing is that they want that same treatment even for doing the bare minimum.
They Have Many Opinions Even on Subjects They Know Little About
A condescending person is quick to give their opinion — any opinion, all opinions. They don’t have to be well-informed to have a fully fleshed-out opinion about a subject. Their own thoughts seem to be of more value to them than any peer-reviewed academic studies or expert testimony. They know it all, and they’ll tell you given half a chance.
They Insult Other People
Condescending people are, by their very nature, insulting. There’s no way not to be insulting when you think you’re better than someone else. Everything they say is dripping with superiority, and it’s unsurprising that people find it insulting, offensive, and downright rude.
They Lack Self-Awareness and Accountability
Condescending people aren’t self-aware, and they aren’t typically accountable either. They are totally clueless about how they’re perceived. On top of that, even if they were able to glimpse that perception, they struggle to be accountable for their own behavior. There’s always an excuse to justify it or someone else to blame for it.
They’re Really Insecure
Despite their apparent arrogance, a condescending person is achingly insecure. No one would act like this who isn’t. They don’t really believe they’re better than everyone else, but they are desperate to feel that way. They’re looking for an ego stroke, outside validation, or any crumb of approval to communicate that they are worthy. They’re often so busy alienating everyone that it’s hard to take a moment to see the underlying insecurity that fuels this behavior.
Don’t be surprised when someone who is condescending is insensitive. It comes with the territory. They say things that will hurt your feelings because they aren’t thinking about your feelings, only theirs. They’re about as subtle and gentle as a bull in a China shop, and they can hurt a lot of relationships with this behavior.
They Live by Comparisons
The condescending person lives their life with a measuring stick. They’re constantly comparing and contrasting themselves with everyone else. It’s a terrible way to live. If someone’s doing better, they’re going to try to invalidate the achievement in some way. If someone’s doing worse, they’ll be quick to point out how much better they’re doing. No one wins with this attitude — not even the condescending person.
Examples of Condescending Behaviors/Remarks
You might notice condescending speech and behavior in someone like this. Here are just a few examples.
- Saying: You NEVER do this.
- Saying: You ALWAYS do this.
- Saying: I’m sorry you feel that way.
- Saying: You need to calm down.
- Saying: Take it easy!
- Saying: Whatever (or other dismissive phrases)
- Making insensitive jokes
- Interrupting frequently
- Correcting someone’s pronunciation
- Correcting someone and beginning the sentence with Actually …
How to Deal with Condescending People
Keep Calm and Carry On
A condescending person thrives on how people react to them. Don’t give them the satisfaction. When they act superior, let them. You keep calm and carry on. Don’t let their obvious issues trip you up or make you second guess yourself.
Use “I” Statements When Responding
Using “I” statements is just plain good communication. If you start a sentence out with “you”, you’ll likely end up in an argument. Don’t meet condescension with condescension. Use effective communication skills when talking to this person.
Don’t Take It Personally
It will certainly feel personal because they are letting you know that they think they’re better than you. Okay … and? That says something about them and their journey. It doesn’t say anything about you. This is their interpretation of life, and it doesn’t have to mean anything to yours. You don’t have to embrace their opinion or try to convince them they’re wrong. Just don’t take it personally.
Use Humor to Diffuse the Tension
Using humor can often diffuse any tension. Just make sure you keep it kind. A well-timed joke can shift them out of their superiority — even if only for a moment. Plus, it can help diffuse any irritation you may be feeling with them if you can find something to laugh about together.
Keep It Compassionate
When they’re condescending, keep in mind that they are likely insecure and immature. Be kind. You never know someone’s story. Maybe they’re better than the previous generation. Maybe there are good reasons they ended up the way they are, reasons that you’re not privy to and might never understand. Assume you don’t know the whole story of why they are the way they are and just give them the benefit of the doubt. Be compassionate to them.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is walk away. If you feel like you’re going to snap or become the condescending one in turn, it could be a good time to take some space. You don’t have an obligation to respond, and it’s a bad idea to react without thinking it through first. Taking a walk could be your best move.
Reinforce Your Boundaries
If the condescending person keeps violating your boundaries, you may need to remind them that you’re not going to tolerate disrespectful behavior. You can let them know that you don’t want to spend time with them when they treat you this way. Don’t expect them to understand your boundaries if you’ve never made them clear. They likely have no idea that the way they’re behaving is actually a real problem.
Assume the Best
Instead of assuming the worst every time they open their mouth, try assuming the best. Humor me. Assume they meant well — even if what they said came out wrong. Assume they were trying to be helpful. Assume even that they don’t really know how to communicate any other way. It’ll help you be kinder even if all your assumptions are wrong.
Condescension: In Conclusion
We all love to hate condescending people. It’s understandable. Still, it’s good to take a moment to remember that the behaviors we all hate can sometimes be the behaviors we’re personally ashamed of doing. We all have our moments when we aren’t our best selves. Extending compassion to ourselves and others can help us be kind even when something that’s being said or done really grinds our gears.
We all have to deal with condescending people at some point or another. You’re sure to spot the signs, but you’ll be prepared to handle whatever they throw at you with a little ingenuity and a whole lot of kindness.
Originally published on The Truly Charming
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