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How to Deal With a Boss Who Talks Down to You

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Condescending behaviors and manners of speaking can be especially difficult to deal with when they come from your boss. For many, frustrations have less to do with what the boss says than the tone of voice and overall delivery. Instead of choosing to suffer in silence, which is often more harmful than helpful, facing the problem head on with professionalism, tact and assertiveness is a better and more effective way to reduce or eventually stop these behaviors.

Look Beyond the Behaviors

Understand that people react differently to workplace pressures. Although it’s possible that your boss is self-centered and a know-it-all in everyday life, it’s also possible that his condescending behaviors result from a lack of confidence. Your boss might be facing pressures that you are unaware of, which may cause him to feel insecure. If you think this might be the case, a little understanding and assistance from you, such as looking for opportunities to give a sincere compliment, can go a long way toward helping your boss become more confident.

Evaluate Your Own Behavior

Although you may not realize it, your own mannerisms and actions might be promoting condescending behaviors. Evaluate and change any behaviors that might make you seem insecure or that show a lack of assurance in your abilities. When you’re dealing with a boss who tends to speak down to you, always strive to appear capable and confident. Look at whether or how often you ask unnecessary questions, look to your boss for reassurance, or fail to take proper credit for a job well done when you deserve it.

Create a Partnership

Jeff Schmitt, an online columnist for Bloomberg BusinessWeek, suggests you draw your boss in instead of pushing her away. Take advantage of your boss’s desire to feel superior and use it to further your own career. For example, allow your boss to become a mentor by asking her what skills you need to develop to reach the next level on your career ladder and by working with her to establish benchmarks to assess your progress. As an added benefit, creating a partnership can help you build or improve on your own relationship-building and communication skills.

Have an Honest Conversation

In a worst-case scenario, or when other attempts to stop condescending behaviors fail, a direct approach might be more appropriate. Request a private meeting and discuss your concerns honestly and objectively. Renee Evenson, a small-business communications expert, says that practicing what you want to say in advance will increase your confidence, which in turn can make the conversation more effective. Evenson also suggests you provide specific examples of condescending behaviors and offer possible solutions instead of speaking in generalities. For example, describe a situation in which you received unnecessary instructions or advice, state why these were unnecessary and assure your boss that although you know you can rely on him, you would appreciate the opportunity to complete projects without his constant input.


Based in Green Bay, Wisc., Jackie Lohrey has been writing professionally since 2009. In addition to writing web content and training manuals for small business clients and nonprofit organizations, including ERA Realtors and the Bay Area Humane Society, Lohrey also works as a finance data analyst for a global business outsourcing company.

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