Behavior that is patronizing or condescending can leave you feeling belittled, inadequate, unintelligent and possibly infuriated. If you find yourself feeling especially angry at such displays of arrogance, you may be tempted to lash out at the offending person. Conversely, if you are mostly feeling hurt and wounded by this behavior, you may be inclined to keep your emotions to yourself and hope not to be treated so poorly again. Neither of these reactions is particularly productive, however. Instead, an assertive and tactful response can minimize the chances of future mistreatment.
Refrain from aggressively voicing your opinion to someone regarding his patronizing behavior. Although it may be tempting, shouting, name-calling, stomping away and slamming doors is not likely to remedy the situation. The offender may then become defensive or even feel that his behavior is justified. An informational resource on conflict management distributed by Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, Wash., points out that when you remain calm, "it will be more likely that others will consider your viewpoint." If you feel that you will be unable to do so, take a break. Remove yourself from the situation and handle it at another time.
In some situations, you may feel that addressing patronizing behavior is not worth your time, such as in the case of a grocery store cashier that you will probably never see again. Many instances of patronizing attitudes will need to be confronted, however. For instance, your older brother may be perpetually condescending unless the problem is resolved. When asserting yourself, verbally identify the exact behavior with which you are unhappy. Use "I" statements to own how you feel about it. Say, for example, "I get frustrated and embarrassed when you refer to me as a child." Ask for the behavior to stop, and be prepared to continue maintaining this boundary.
Refrain from engaging in bitter, nasty or passive-aggressive exchanges with the offending person. This sort of hostile communication will most likely get in the way of progress. Preserve your integrity and model mature, respectful behavior by practicing kindness as much as possible. Instead of calling your brother an obnoxious jerk, remind him that although you care about him and value his opinion, he is not welcome to insult you. Ending the conversation there may even leave him at a loss in terms of how to respond, since he was not offered any sort of bait to continue bickering and patronizing.
When you communicate to others what you will and will not tolerate, such as patronizing behavior, you are setting boundaries. Personal boundaries demand respect, according to Jane Collingwood in an article for Psych Central titled "The Importance of Personal Boundaries." Once you have communicated your disapproval of condescension, you may need to inform the offending person of potential ramifications for any violations that may occur in the future. You might say, "If you continue to insinuate that I am unintelligent, we won't be able to spend time together." Be prepared to follow through with any such consequences. Failing to do so may be interpreted by the offender as an indication that he can continue to disrespect you with little or no accountability.
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Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.