Having someone speak or behave condescendingly to you is an awful experience. Not only is it demeaning, it’s frustrating and even dehumanizing.
Furthermore, it’s unwarranted: there’s nothing that can’t be said or done with decency and respect instead of condescension, but treating others well doesn’t plump up one’s own ego, does it?
Most people who behave this way toward others are incredibly insecure. They usually feel weak and disempowered, so they try to make others feel small to prop themselves up. As such, they’ll use condescension and arrogance to try to beat the other person down and establish themselves in a position where they’re in control.
Examples of condescending remarks:
The types of remarks listed below are the most common examples of condescension in day-to-day conversation. They may occur within families, at school or work, between peers, or even with strangers.
1. Calling people by diminutive names.
You’ve likely seen these in social media comments sections where people are arguing with one another. In order to undermine another person or try to make them feel small, someone might call them a pet name such as “sweetheart,” “sugar,” “darling,” “cupcake,” “sweetie,” and so on.
You may also come across them in a work environment. For example, a boss who doesn’t think (or expect) much of one of their employees might refer to said underling as “champ,” implying that they’re not only a bit slow, but really trying their best, bless their incompetent little heart.
While these monikers may be considered cute or sweet when dealing with a child or a pet Pekingese, they’re incredibly demeaning when directed toward another adult. That’s the entire intention, really. They want to make the other person seem like a childish idiot who doesn’t know what they’re talking about or deserve any degree of respect or courtesy.
2. “Calm down” or “Relax.”
This one is just as infuriating as the remarks mentioned above, if not more so. It implies that the other person is being melodramatic or otherwise emotionally unstable, thus invalidating anything they have to say.
They might be acting completely calmly and rationally, but are basically being told—albeit indirectly—to shut up because they’re embarrassing themselves and everyone else.
This response is often directed toward women, particularly in work or post-secondary environments. After they’re told to “relax” or “calm down,” anything they say is likely to be ignored or brushed aside as being petty and irrelevant.
Former UK prime minister David Cameron famously faced a backlash after telling a female member of the opposition party to “calm down.”
3. Implying that you’re not smart enough to understand.
You’ll often get this type of remark from someone who considers themselves to be more intelligent or well-educated than you are. Generally, the response will go along the lines of:
“I’d love to explain this to you, but I’d likely have to use really small words in order for you to understand me. Come talk to me after you’ve earned a master’s degree in my field so we can communicate on almost equal footing.”
People who go this route are often fiercely insecure, and they use their acquired knowledge base as a shield to hide behind, prop themselves up with, and injure others as needed. Their education is pretty much all they have going for them, so they use it as a weapon whenever they feel threatened.
4. Saying something is “actually” a good idea, well done, and so on.
If someone says that a suggestion you have is “actually” a good idea, then they’re implying that everything you usually say is not. Similarly, if they tell you that dinner was actually delicious, that suggests they think you usually cook things that taste like unseasoned badger meat in mud sauce.
Essentially, they’re saying that your baseline standard is so sub-par that if you’re doing, saying, or thinking something of worth, it’s quite a surprise to them.
5. “Did you do this by yourself?”
Once again, this is a commentary on a person’s aptitude. If they’ve done something that’s (actually!) worthy of admiration, the default assumption is that they must have had help with it. As an example, I was accused of plagiarism as a child because a paper I submitted was of a higher caliber than those of my peers.
6. “You’d understand if you’d experienced that too.”
This is often used by people who are quite wealthy and have had the privilege of attending the best schools, travelling around the world, and so on. They embody elitism and behave as though having money and certain life experiences makes them a superior human being.
These people will often talk about things like the expensive meals they had recently, then express sympathy at the fact that others around them probably don’t even know what X is (like beluga caviar or Kobe beef), let alone know what it tastes like.
7. “Oh, just lighten up!”
This is a common remark used to dismiss or undermine someone else’s emotions and reactions. You’ll hear it from people who make insulting or demeaning comments. If others don’t laugh, they try to brush them off as “jokes.” They’ll also tell others to “just stop.” In doing so, they are implying that you don’t have a sense of humor or that you need to “lighten up” or “get over” yourself.
8. “I expected better from you.”
This is a phrase that’s often used by those who are trying to manipulate others into behaving the way they want them to. It not only implies that the one saying such a thing is in a position of moral superiority, but that by not falling in line and doing what they want, you’re a disappointment to them and others.
Some perfect examples of this would be people who choose not to follow the same spiritual paths as older family members or those who decide on a career path that only garners disapproval. Others may have heard it from those who have opposing political views or from people who make different personal life choices, such as dietary preferences or breastfeeding.
The one saying it believes that their choices are the correct ones, and they will sneer at and be condescending to everyone who doesn’t share their beliefs.
In essence, they’re behaving as though your choices and preferences are childish, uneducated, misguided, and even embarrassing. When in fact, they’re likely completely valid, well-researched, carefully chosen, and (most importantly) right for the individual.
Examples of condescending behavior:
Much like the remarks listed above, the behaviors below show up often when people are interacting with one another in person. They might happen between family members, colleagues, friends, or complete strangers—all depending on circumstance and what’s going on around them.
9. Interruption/talking over another.
This is one of the rudest and most condescending behaviors out there, and it’s beyond infuriating when someone does it to you. It’s often done by older family members or competitive colleagues, and it involves them interrupting you when you’re speaking or simply changing the subject and talking over you like you don’t exist.
Firstly, it implies that you aren’t worth listening to and don’t deserve respect. Secondly, it’s a dominance thing. By simply interrupting or talking over you, they’re trying to show that they’re more important than you and what they have to say has more value than whatever you were blathering on about.
10. Constantly correcting others.
This expands upon the previous example, because it usually involves interrupting someone mid-sentence. The one doing the correcting gets a kick out of the other person’s discomfort, since just about everyone experiences a blow to their self-confidence when it’s pointed out that they’ve made an error.
We touched upon how people who condescend toward others tend to be fiercely insecure. Well, many of those people have chosen an area or subject to immerse themselves in and use this expertise as a mark of superiority.
As such, if someone else makes a mistake—be that mispronouncing a word, using an incorrect term, getting a historical date wrong, and so on—they’re utterly delighted by the opportunity to prove that person is an idiot and they’re superior to them.
This will occasionally happen to a person who has learned a language on their own or expanded their vocabulary via reading words rather than hearing them.
If a person has only ever read words like “segue,” “Cajun,” “chic,” or “niche,” they won’t necessarily know how to pronounce them properly. Then, when they make that error, they’re suddenly a perfect target for mockery and condescension. That person might speak 10 languages, but if they mispronounced a single word, they’ll be considered stupid by a condescending native speaker.
11. Explaining things to others before asking if they know anything about it.
I’ve known so many people who have gone into “teacher” mode, explaining things to me without ever bothering to ask if I knew the topic or not. More often than not, people will assume that unless you talk about your knowledge of a subject on the regular, you don’t have a clue about it.
Furthermore, they’ll assume that if you look or behave a certain way (i.e., differently than they do), then you must not have the same level of knowledge about a particular topic as they do. Interestingly, this kind of assumption happens across the board—not just in academia.
As an example, when my partner was working in a bookstore in her early twenties, a customer asked her if she could help them find a particular book. She asked them to repeat the title because she didn’t quite catch it, and they rolled their eyes, repeated it, and said, “It’s in German, you’ve probably never even heard of it.”
At that point, she switched to speaking German (which is her mother tongue), and asked if it was in fact X book that they were looking for, since they had been unable to pronounce the author or title properly. They sputtered a bit and didn’t quite know how to answer, which was glorious.
12. Doing something else while another is talking (either to them or in a group setting).
I’ve seen this happen in work settings, but it can also happen in one-on-one situations as well as in groups. Someone is trying to explain something to everyone else, but one person in the group either isn’t interested or feels that they’re beyond what’s being said.
So they take out their phone and start scrolling social media or texting someone and occasionally sighing to let everyone know how unbelievably bored they are with what’s going on around them.
13. Ignoring or fighting against those in positions of authority when they feel superior.
Let’s say you’re in a work environment and you’re assigned to be the leader or manager for a particular project. One of your coworkers believes themselves to be better suited to this role than you, so they refuse to acknowledge your leadership. Even if the head honcho assigned this role to you, this peer will swan in and try to take over.
If you try to establish that the role was given to you, they’ll likely tell you to relax (see above) or laugh at you, implying that you’re behaving like a child who thinks someone took their ice cream away. Furthermore, if you go to your boss and let them know what’s going on, you’ll end up looking like a petty juvenile who can’t handle situations on your own.
14. “Sh!t sandwiches.”
These are also known as “compliment sandwiches,” which doesn’t encompass their true nature quite as well. Basically, it’s negative or critical feedback sandwiched between two compliments. Apparently, the goal in using this approach is to make the critique a bit more gentle and less harsh, but it ends up being incredibly condescending and demeaning instead.
Here’s an example in which a manager may call a subordinate into the office to give them some feedback:
“Hey champ! So, first off, you did an AMAZING job leading the board meeting this afternoon—everyone loved what you had to say. The thing is, you should have bought more interesting snacks. These are high-ranking board members, so we need to spoil them and not offer them whatever cheap crap you feed your kids after school. Other than that, GREAT JOB.”
When one is on the receiving end of feedback like that, one feels like a pet or a child who’s being given false praise, while simultaneously being insulted.
15. Using overly familiar nicknames or diminutives.
This touches upon calling subordinates things like “champ” or “honey,” but expands into referring to people by names other than those they use themselves. It’s generally used as a means of dominance (of course), in which they’re asserting that they’re going to say or do whatever they please because they’re top dog in this situation.
Let’s say they have coworkers named Abraham and Elizabeth. Both coworkers prefer the long forms of their names and introduce themselves as such. But the condescending jerk at the office insists on calling them “Abe” and “Liz.” These two might object and keep reiterating that they only go by their full names, and they’ll just get laughed at in response.
Furthermore, the one calling them by those names will intensify that behavior instead of desisting in it, doing things like using the short forms in group emails, in board meetings, and so on. The goal is to keep undermining the others, and if they complain about this behavior, they’ll be seen as petulant instead of fun coworkers who accept these pet names good naturedly.
16. Dismissing or demeaning experiences they haven’t had personally.
Let’s say someone is suffering from a debilitating headache and needs to go home from work. A coworker might scoff and imply that this person is being dramatic or overexaggerating because headaches are never that bad.
Meanwhile, the one suffering it may have blackout or aura migraines that render them incapacitated for days at a time, but “whatever.” It’s never happened to them personally, so they must be overreacting. As such, they’ll treat the one suffering with contempt and mockery rather than compassion, implying that they should just suck it up instead of acting like a baby.
17. Offering unsolicited advice.
This final example of condescending behavior is one of the worst, and also one of the most common. Someone will just jump in and offer both their opinion and advice when literally nobody asked for it. They’ll speak with great authority about what everyone else should be doing, saying, choosing, wearing, eating, and so on, and then get incredibly offended if their advice isn’t met with praise and appreciation.
After all, they’re so knowledgeable about the topic, why wouldn’t everyone be delighted to know what the right course of action should be?
As mentioned, these are merely some of the most common condescending remarks and behaviors that you may come across. There are countless others, and although they’ll be related to those mentioned here, they’ll differ depending on your situation, culture, and so on.
The thing about condescension is, it can be overcome. It is possible to learn how to stop be condescending if you want to stop. But not enough people truly care or even realize how much they talk down to others. Still, at least now you know what to look out for.