How to Deal With a Condescending Boss

What To Do if Your Manager Talks Down to You

Boss condescendingly speaks to her reporting staff member.


vgajic/E+/Getty Images 

If you've ever had a condescending manager, you may have considered quitting. If you otherwise like your job, your work, and your colleagues, you might want to consider another strategy. You also might want to see what you can do to make the situation better while you look for another job.                         

Key Takeaways

  • Talk to your manager about how you can improve your performance
  • Condescension is legal unless you are being discriminated against
  • Stay calm and try to address any issues your manager may have with your work

Why Does Your Manager Talk Down to You?

First, you need to understand what issue your manager has with you. If you lack training and struggling in areas where other employees are not, you may want to ask your manager or other coworkers for advice on how you can improve your performance.

Your manager may not be intentionally condescending, but their management style might not work for you.

Harassment and Discrimination Laws

Condescending behavior is not illegal in and of itself. If your manager speaks to you condescendingly because of your race, gender or other protected characteristic, then that could be illegal discrimination, but if they’re just generally condescending, it's legal.

If you're in a protected group, see if other coworkers with protected characteristics have had the same experience with your manager.

Meet With Your Manager

If you have regular one-on-one meetings with your manager, you'll want to ask them for actions you can take to improve at work. You can work together to make goals that will help you improve at work and hopefully improve your relationship with your boss.


If you don't have regular meetings, then ask to meet with your manager so you can try and improve your relationship.

What to Ask Your Manager

Focus on getting clear and actionable advice from your manager. Try one of the following statements and questions to start:

  • Can I have 15 minutes of your time on Friday afternoons to go over and prioritize my tasks for the next week?
  • I'm having trouble figuring out the most important task to focus my time on. Can you give me some insight into your goals for the department?
  • Sometimes I get too focused on details and miss the big picture. Can you recommend a training class that will help me learn to see the overall priorities?

Notice that what you're not doing is saying, “You never showed me how to do that.” Even if it's true, managers don't respond well to "you" statements like that—and they'll feel like you're attacking them. This won’t improve your situation and may make it worse.

Follow Up With Your Manager

If you can show your manager that you've addressed the issue they have with you, you may be able to improve your relationship. For example, if your manager feels that you're not prioritizing your work properly, you could regularly check in with them to ensure you're focused on the most important task.

If you can get your manager to help you prioritize your work according to what they want which may or may not be logical, then they might act in a less condescending way.

Stay Calm and Respectful

If you make a mistake and your manager begins to talk down to you, calmly apologize for your error. If they continue to belittle you, remind your manager that you have apologized for your error, and ask to continue with your work. If they will not stop, you may need to stand up and leave the conversation.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Professionally Tell Someone They Are Condescending?

If they're your coworker, you can calmly point out that a remark they made was condescending. If it's a consistent issue, you may want to talk with your manager. If they are in a position of authority, you can try to take everything at face value and ignore their tone.

How Do You Defend Yourself Professionally?

First, stay calm and acknowledge any mistakes you've made. If you think you have not made a mistake on the topic in question, you can ask for more details on what you should have done differently. Explain your process and why you took the steps you did. If you completed the necessary steps in the proper order you should not need to defend yourself further.

Was this page helpful?
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Polaris Law Group. "How To Deal With a Condescending Boss."

Related Articles