Today we’re taking a question from someone who is struggling with a co-worker who fails to communicate necessary information and then is condescending about the result.
I work with a condescending co-worker who seems to thrive on making my life as hard as possible. My job requires assisting him with word processing and report formatting. He doesn’t give me clear directions, and as a result, I often waste time doing work incorrectly.
He often gives instructions to me when he’s leaving the office in a rush or when I’m on my way out the door. When he catches me at 5:00 and I’m clearly leaving, he’ll shove a document into my hands and start talking. When I say, “I’m really sorry, but I’ve got to leave. Could you give me this tomorrow or leave me a few notes on it?” he says, “Can’t you remember something this simple?” in a tone that implies I’m stupid.
Most days, I wind up running to get my legal pad, taking notes on his assignment and being late to pick up my son at day care. When I ask him questions about his directions, he’ll ask, “And exactly what part of this don’t you get?” as if he’s overwhelmed by my incompetency.
I’ve always been a professional and used a “kill them with kindness” approach, but it’s not working. How do I handle this?
Those who condescend to others often prevail because the rest of us either take it or let them.
Here are your options. When he next speaks to you in a condescending tone of voice, say, “Stop right there. I’d like to bring our supervisor into this discussion.” Then, invite your supervisor to meet with the two of you, and as best you can, explain the situation, imitating your co-worker’s tone of voice. If your co-worker clears it up in front of your supervisor but then condescends to you again, repeat this process.
Alternatively, ignore his voice tone and answer his jibes directly. This eliminates the reward he potentially gets from spreading condescension on you like butter. For example, if he asks, “What part of this don’t you get?” tell him what about his directions need clarifying. When he says, “Can’t you remember something this simple?” at 5:00 as you’re on your way out the door, respond, “No, I wouldn’t ask you to leave me notes if I could remember it overnight. I’ll be glad to meet with you in the morning, though, and take notes. Or you can leave me notes.”
When you talk with him, retain your professionalism and don’t let him push you into anger. If you realize you’re about to react to his treatment, simply say, “I won’t let you talk to me that way,” and walk away.
Finally, if none of these strategies work, ask your supervisor for assistance. It’s in your supervisor’s interest to not let this co-worker destroy your morale and, more importantly, you don’t deserve condescension when you’re trying to do a good job.
© 2016, Lynne Curry. If you’d like an answer to your career question, it’s easy. Write firstname.lastname@example.org. Lynne authored Solutions and Beating the Workplace Bully, AMACOM. You can also follow Lynne@lynnecurry10 on Twitter or access her other posts on SheKnows, www.workplacecoachblog.com or www.bullywhisperer.com.