Let’s talk about those colleagues. Do you know the type I’m talking about? The ones who have a knack for climbing up on their high horses while making you feel oh-so-small and unimportant?
Nobody likes that condescending team member. But, take a minute to think about this: What if you’re coming off as that patronizing person in your office? Even worse, what if—gasp!—you don’t even realize you’re doing it?
I’m not big into scare tactics, but here’s the reality: We’re all only human, which means it’s easy to slide into some arrogant and superior habits every now and then.
Here are five signs that’s the case:
1. You Aren’t Choosing Your Words Carefully
There are two words that have a way of sneaking into our vocabulary and kicking everyone around us down a couple of pegs. What are they? Actually and just.
Think about the last time you uttered a sentence like one of these in the office:
“I actually think that’s a good idea.”
“You just need to do it this way.”
Inserting these words into your sentences immediately makes you sound condescending. “Actually” indicates surprise—as if the fact that your colleague made a decent suggestion managed to knock you back in your chair. And, “just” implies simplicity—as if your co-worker is a total moron for not coming to that solution on his own.
2. You’re Always Putting Yourself First
Your boss explicitly approved your request for a long lunch. So, even though you know the rest of your team is scrambling to finish up a shared project, you’re still heading out and taking that lengthy break you believe you’re entitled to. You give your colleagues a wave and a brief smile as you breeze past that crowded conference room and out the office door.
Yes, sometimes in your career you need to put yourself first—and, hey, you deserve a break! However, there’s a fine line between managing your own needs and treating your colleagues like doormats.
Nobody’s saying you need to transform into an office martyr. But, there’s also nothing wrong with lending a helping hand or stepping up in a crisis every now and then.
3. You’re the Master of Backhanded Compliments
You might think you’re always showering your co-workers in praise. However, it’s worth some reflection to make sure you aren’t dishing out too many backhanded compliments.
What do these look like? Here are two classic examples:
“This presentation turned out way better than your last one.”
“I could tell you didn’t have a ton of time, but that project still looked good.”
Your intentions to offer a commendation are pure. But, you’re going about it all wrong. When doling out a compliment, stay focused on the positive—anything else can make you come off as snide or even snobbish.
4. You’re Always Equating Your Experiences
When a colleague vents to you about a frustration or a problem, you think the best way to be supportive is to talk about your own experience that you deem similar.
But, guess what? Your co-worker who’s stressing about that report that was just annihilated by your boss likely won’t be comforted by the fact that the cafeteria screwed up your sandwich that day.
While demonstrating empathy is one thing, attempting to equate your own experiences—particularly when they aren’t at all relevant to your colleague’s situation—will always come off as condescending.
On the flipside of that coin, responding to your team member with a relieved, “I’m so glad I’ve never had to deal with that…” or “That’s never happened to me…” isn’t helpful either.
Instead, focus on actively listening and offering help in any way that you can. That’s really all your co-worker needs.
5. You’re a Conversational Steamroller
You pride yourself on your ability to maintain a lively discussion with anyone in your office. But, ask yourself this: Is it really a discussion, or are you carrying the bulk of that exchange? Are you giving your colleague adequate space and time to speak?
By not letting other people chime in—whether it’s in a team meeting or even in a one-on-one conversation—being a conversational steamroller sends the message that you deem whatever you have to say as far more important.
There’s really nothing more demeaning than that. So, the next time you’re chatting with a colleague, make a conscious effort to listen just as much as you speak. Nobody likes a conversation hog.
Nobody wants to be condescending to their co-workers. But, unfortunately, it has a way of happening without you even realizing it.
Keep your eyes peeled for these five symptoms, and you’re sure to decrease your likelihood of inspiring groans from your team members. And, when in doubt? Offer to pay for a round of drinks at happy hour—that alone can go a long way.
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