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  • Writer's pictureAmy

Redirecting Condescending Behaviors

Condescension is bad.

Nothing damages a team faster than someone with a condescending attitude. It’s something you just can’t seem to overcome regardless of how hard you try. Maybe you have an employee who is trying to finish a project but the way the he (or she) asks for help is like nails on a chalkboard. No one wants to help because this employee is known for making co-workers feel insignificant. It hurts the team when one individual addresses their co-workers from a position of superiority.

Even I could do that.”

“Check my calendar for me.”

“You ask too may questions.”

“That is the wrong way to do it. Didn’t you learn this the first time?”

Add to the snide sayings any form or eye-rolling, arm-crossing, or long-suffering sighs and you have got yourself the perfect atmosphere for a mutiny. The longer you allow condescending behaviors, the harder it is to repair the trust of your team. Here are five steps for redirecting condescending behaviors.

Address it immediately

Give immediate feedback; don’t let one action become a trend or behavior. There is no need for a long, drawn out meeting, especially if it is the first incident. A 30- to 60-second meeting is all that is needed to let the person know their behavior was out of line. It might sound like:

Boss: “John, do you have a moment?”

John: “Sure. What’s up?”

Boss: “I was listening to you when you assigned tasks to your team this morning. Your tone was rather abrasive and condescending. I’m glad you are concerned with meeting our deadline but I’d like to see you talk to your co-workers from a position of respect. And by ‘respect’, I mean, you should show them how much you respect their input, skill set, and knowledge.” (Avoid the urge to continue to explain yourself. You aren’t judging their actions; you are simply acknowledging what you saw and what you expect to see in the future.)

John: “I don’t see anything wrong with the way I talked to them.”

Boss: “I respect your opinion but I’d like you to take a few days to reflect on this. We can chat about it later this week if you feel like I didn’t interpret it right.”

That is it. There is no reason to belabor the issue. Escalate this to retraining, a formal reprimand, or dismissal if the individual isn’t responsive to your immediate feedback.

Address it in private

Talk to the offender in private. Give the person the benefit of the doubt. They may be unaware of how their behaviors are affecting the team or of your expectations of them. This is also a great time to allow the offender to express opinions about why or how this occurred. Their reasons are relative to the discussion because it will help the individual understand their triggers. Don’t mistake their reasons for a pass. There are no good reasons to allow condescension in the workplace.

Be specific

Relate specific incidents from your perspective. If you are addressing the issue because of a complaint from another employee, relate how you perceive the situation and how it is negatively impacting the team. Keep the focus on the employee’s delivery or non-verbal behavior. Remind him that it is not his intentions, but how his behaviors are perceived by others.

Be clear about your expectations

Don’t let the conversation end there. Be clear about what you expect to happen next. Examples include, “ask your co-workers for their help instead of telling them they have a deadline” or “Do not tell your co-workers that you can do their job better than them”. While this seems elementary, it demonstrates that there will be monitoring and follow up in the coming days.

Coach continually

Schedule proactive coaching sessions to avoid additional problems. Rarely will you fix condescending behaviors with just a couple of feedback sessions. It normally takes multiple coaching sessions in a ‘cold state’. ‘Cold state’ (cognition) coaching takes place in advance of an incident. ‘Hot state’ (cognition) coaching is takes place in the heat of the moment. The purpose of hot cognition coaching is to correct the action vice equipping personnel with the necessary skills to avoid negative behaviors.

What are some of the ways you nip condescending behaviors in the bud?

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