What do you do about a colleague who is always telling you how to do your job? Or someone who seems to always have the answer, implying that you don’t? Or a coworker who uses a patronizing tone whenever they talk to you? Dealing with a condescending colleague can be frustrating, demoralizing, and even infuriating.

So how do you address their behavior in a way that protects you from its negative consequences and allows you to feel a sense of integrity? Try one of these strategies to keep your cool and not sink to the level of the offending party.

Don’t take it personally (even if it’s intentional). Lashing out to defend yourself will play right into the offending party’s hands. Instead, be calm, positive, and never underestimate the power of kindness in a negative situation. Remember that their behavior likely has more to do with them than it does with you and what they think of you.

Separate emotion from the message. Extract the information or feedback that is relevant to the task or situation and disregard the condescending tone. Avoid dishing out the same, even if it’s tempting to do so.

Ask for clarification. Some colleagues may come from a different workplace culture or be accustomed to speaking to others in a certain way that they don’t recognize as being inappropriate. They may literally be clueless, completely unaware of how they’ve offended you.

Neutralize your body language. Do your best to maintain a calm and neutral demeanor. Stand up straight, take up your space, don’t shrink back in offense, and hold your ground—both physically and mentally.

Choose your battles. Not every condescending remark requires a response. Distinguish between statements or actions that are irritating and behavior that is preventing you from getting your work done. There are times when it could be best to ignore their arrogance.

Address it calmly and professionally. If warranted, address bad office behavior by telling people when their actions are not okay with you. Calmly and professionally call out the behavior and let them know how it impacted you without making a scene or being dramatic.

Working with a condescending coworker is irritating at best and career-limiting at worst. But you don’t need to sit back and suffer. You can take steps to curb your colleague’s bluster or at least lessen its impact on you and your career.


Harvard Business Review (2024, February 13) Amy Gallo: How to Deal with a Condescending Colleague
The Muse (2020, June 19) Lea McLeod: 4 Better Ways to Handle a Condescending Co-Worker Than Stooping to His Level