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Insights: How to Deal with Co-workers Who Talk Down to You

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Ask the Expert! Through WISE Insights, connect with knowledgeable experts to receive honest and thoughtful answers to your career-related questions, or read about the challenges your peers are facing.


I’m an experienced worker, but I’ve never gotten over the hump and landed a management role. I’m happy with what I do, but it seems that because I’m lower on the totem pole, people assume that I’m less experienced, and I find myself being talked down to. It’s hard not to take it personally or be insulted. How do I approach the subject with those individuals and not come off as defensive?

Submitted by: WISE Cleveland member | 15+ years professional experience


Unfortunately, there will always be some people at work who treat those less senior in a negative way — often just because they can and regardless of performance. Without knowing the specifics of what they are saying that you find unacceptable or the frequency with which these types of interactions occur, I would first ask if there is someone in the office whom you feel comfortable talking with to get his or her perspective. Maybe a peer? Another opinion can help you better process what the offenders are saying, or how they are treating you, and provide another view on how best to handle them or what you can do to interact with them differently. For example, do the comments run to a particular theme — e.g., punctuality, quality of work, etc. — that can be helpful to figure out?

If the negative comments occur every time you speak with them, then in reality, there is likely nothing you can say that will make them change. If the comments are more random and they seem reasonable in other respects, then you could try asking them to clarify what they are saying to you so that you can understand their concern. I have found this approach works better than confronting them directly, which rarely ends well.

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Jane Hollman

About Jane Hollman

Jane Hollman has more than 25 years experience in senior human resources roles at large multinationals and sports across Asia Pacific and the United States. Currently a career coach, she helps business leaders and university students think through their career paths. Hollman is passionate about creating flexible, innovative work places and mentors women looking to start their own businesses. She is also a freelance writer covering the business of sports for publications such as Women Talking Sports.

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