Dealing with people who are condescending without losing your shit

Have you ever had to deal with someone who is patronising, condescending or just gives you attitude?

I think we all have at some point in our careers, and if you haven’t, count yourself lucky, as it’s one of the most blood-boiling and frustrating things, ever! I hate when people speak down to others, especially when they do it in the professional world, and particularly when they do it to assistants – gosh it gets me angry!

Just because I'm an assistant, support person, admin professional, whatever you want to call me, does not mean that I am less than or less capable than you. What I do every day to keep things moving behind the scenes is paramount to the smooth & efficient running of the team, office and the boss. I am kickass at figuring out how to do pretty much anything that's needed of me, and please don't forget that I'm the office f@#king superstar, because guess who gets stuff done around here and is the right-hand ‘man’ to the boss.. that’s right, ME!

So, imagine, someone on your bosses leadership team is condescending, they treat you like a secretary from the 70’s and think that your job as an assistant is to be seen and not heard, that your job is to open the mail, take minutes and get the coffee - is your blood boiling yet!? How do you handle this? How do you work through what you want to say versus how you should handle it diplomatically and professionally? Hard one, I know.. the struggle is real!

Well, if you’re anything like us you’ll want to hold your ground and tell them where to shove it, avoid them and never do anything to help them ever again… But, that’s probably not going to get you anywhere with someone like that. These people usually have a preconceived view about their role and ours, and are hung up on the hierarchy in the business and who they show respect to, and honestly that’s probably not going to change anytime soon unfortunately. You can’t control what other people think or say, but what you CAN do is control what you think and say! So here are a few steps to help you navigate through it:

Now we obviously aren’t specialists in this area or anything, but we can tell you how we’ve handled it over the years from our own personal experiences.

Stay calm - when communicating with a condescending person, if you lose your temper, get defensive and start arguing, it is likely to make things worse. So before replying,  pause for a moment, take a breath, walk away for 5mins if you have to, and remind yourself that you have not done anything wrong, are just trying to get the job done, and it’s them that has the problem. Tell yourself to stay calm and keep it professional. Stooping to their level isn’t worth it and just makes you look as bad as they are!

Be honest - if someone is giving you attitude or being condescending, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, especially if you haven’t done anything to warrant that tone! Let them know that you feel talked down to, and that it’s uncalled for and you don’t appreciate it – that you’re just trying to get the job done. Being honest is imperative in dealing with all situations in life! More often than not, the person will apologise and be more mindful on how they speak to you in future because you’ve called them out on it already.

Watch your tone - attitude and condescension is usually more about the tone of voice than it is about the words said. Try not to reply to a condescending person with more condescension and attitude, as this will usually just escalate the situation. Try not to be sarcastic, say things under your breath or raise your voice.

Check your emotion - try to keep emotions out of it. Yes it hurts and makes you angry, so it will be a real struggle that will take lots of practice, but, remind yourself why you’re there. You are paid to help your boss achieve his or her goals and objectives. I find it much easier to change my mindset when I say this to myself, and it stops me from stooping to their level and retaliating (don’t get me wrong – I definitely store it in the memory bank for when that person needs a favour or a short notice request  one day – mwahahaha). It helps me to gain perspective and not let it ruin my day, or week.

Seek counsel – if it’s a repeated pattern of behaviour you’re dealing with and have tried addressing it with the person directly and aren’t getting anywhere, then we recommend speaking to your boss or a manager about it. Presuming you’ve got a boss who values and respects you, we guarantee that they won’t be very impressed to hear that you’re being treated this way, and will either address the behaviour with the person themselves or help guide you with how to deal with it.

Smile & move on - sometimes the best thing to do is just to move on, particularly if it’s a one-off and not a repeated pattern of behaviour. Everyone has a bad day or says something stupid every now and then. So our best advice is to let it slide if it’s a one-off and have a rant about it later to your girlfriends over a glass of wine. Or better yet, come to a Sassy event and vent to awesome chicks who get it and go through the same things you do, day in & day out - It’s part of the reason we started our events!

This may not solve the problem, but hopefully it will help a little the next time you have to deal with an idiot who gives you attitude!

Click here to get your ticket to our next event and chat with some awesome likeminded assistants.

Nis & Sarah

Enisa Fazlic