How Not to Talk Down to People

Ever hang up the phone and think “Wow, I feel a little insulted” but you’re not sure why?

Ever get an email that just rubs you the wrong way?

You feel like someone was rude to you… but they weren’t overtly rude, so you can’t really call them out on it?

That’s the art of subtle condescension at work!

istock_000003992773xsmall.jpgIt can be intentional or accidental, and it’s my feeling that 90% of the time, it really is accidental. Nevertheless, “talking down to people,” whether we meant to or not, does have its consequences.

It can make us unlikeable and even unlovable. It can cause others to actively avoid us. And it can pull us farther away from our goals as a direct result of people not wishing to cooperate with us.

So how do so many people manage to offend or condescend to each other without realizing it?

• They’re in a hurry and engaging in “sloppy communication.”
• They’re not thinking about manners or courtesy.
• They haven’t considered the other person’s feelings.
• They’re hoping to appear smart, worldly and or in-the-know about a particular subject or area of specialization.
• They feel threatened, either by the intelligence of the person whom they’re speaking, or by outside competition, and they’re too busy defending their own ego to acknowledge someone else’s.

In what ways do we carelessly tromp upon others’ egos as we’re so busily trying to prove ourselves?

1. When we “explain” things to people who actually may already know what we’re talking about.

Why is this a form of condescension? Because we never bother to acknowledge that they may indeed already be aware of what we’re telling us. Teaching isn’t far from preaching… and no one likes to be preached to without a choir and pulpit in the background.

How to fix it? The next time you feel like you should explain something, whether it’s a business policy, a technology, an incidental, or something that will help clarifying your meaning… give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

Simply preface what you’re about to say with “You may already know this but…” It’s such a humble little phrase, but it makes a huge difference in how we come off to others. No one wants to think that we assume they don’t know anything!

2. When we take credit for ourselves, but forget to give it to others.

Sometimes people feel the need to give themselves a little pat on the back for their accomplishments. Maybe they want others to recognize that they worked hard to solve a problem, complete a task, or innovate a new system of some kind. Standing up for ourselves in this manner is certainly a good thing. (If you don’t do it, who will?)

But where we go wrong is when the achievement was shared… but we fail to acknowledge that someone else may have had a hand in the outcome.

How to fix it? Simple. Just before you congratulate yourself, remember to honor and give public credit to someone else if they’ve helped you out. Say, “Thank you for being a part of this project,” and mean it! Do this whether you’re talking one to one with the person who helped you, or if the two of you are engaged in a group discussion with others.

Sure, it’s a cliche… but recall that there is no “I” in team. People are far more likely to want to work with you in the future if you treat them as equal and valued partners, not only in cooperation, but in the sweet victory of success!

3. When we try to tell others how to do their job… or we attempt to do it for them.

There is nothing worse than saying you’re going to partner up with someone for their expertise, but then second-guessing every decision they make. In both professional and personal situations, collaboration usually works best when each person owns an area of the project.

So when people constantly ask us, “Why’d you do it that way?” or “Wouldn’t it be better if you did X?” they’re not-so-subtly telling us they don’t trust our ability or our judgment.

How to fix it? Next time you feel like criticizing a team mate or work partner’s actions… just stifle that urge. Keep quiet even if you think you’re being “polite” and have the best intentions.

Not only is it demoralizing for the other person to constantly hear your complaints and objections, but it greatly detracts from productivity. After all… if you’re so busying looking after what the other person is supposed to be doing, who’s keeping an eye on your portion of the work?

The opposite of talking down to people, technically, is talking “up.” But this would imply that we’re putting them on a pedestal, and there’s no need to cut ourselves down in such a manner.

What we want to do is converse with folks “on the level.” Your remarks should communicate to others that hey, everybody here is intelligent, and just as much as we all do a good job… sometimes we might make the occasional mistake – myself included. And that’s okay, because as mature, rational, capable adults we’ll fix whatever goes wrong if it does. But most importantly, we’re here to work together as a team of equals.

It’s not so difficult to foster cooperation and collaboration, both in our jobs and in our everyday dealings. It’s not so hard to make people remember us, like us, and choose to work with us time and time again.

The trick is to slow down, think before you speak, and remember that others want to be acknowledged and recognized just as much as you do.

Who can you show a bit of gratitude and compassion toward today?

NEWSFLASH: I’ve added another chapter to my life by joining C.A.S.T. Recovery, a Los Angeles based outpatient drug rehab program which specializes in designing highly individualized recovery plans with appropriate professionals to support a client’s health, accountability, and success.

Explore Similar Topics

Recent Post

Slow Healing

I have been thinking about connections again. As I watch the world crumble and change around me, it becomes even more apparent that we’re on

Read More »
relinquishment and addiction