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Has anyone ever told you that you’re being condescending or patronizing? Or maybe you hear this on a regular basis?
If so, you might feel a bit bewildered. After all, you may just be trying to share information that you really like. Or perhaps you’re keen to help because you think you know what would make their lives, health, or overall situation better.
Quite often, what we say to others comes across quite differently than how we meant it. We may come across as expressing arrogance or scorn when in fact, we’re drawing upon life experience in order to spare others hardship.
Alternatively, sometimes we really do get frustrated with someone else’s ignorance, and have a hard time keeping that from entering our verbal tone.
Regardless, there are some ways to stop being condescending toward others, though they do take self-awareness and patience to put into practice.
1. Listen to other people.
You may be really eager to help someone with a situation or project by imparting your knowledge and experience to them.
You may have found a great approach to a problem, or a wonderful diet, or great exercise routines, for example.
You’ll feel that the other person would benefit greatly by you teaching them a better way.
If they’re up for that, great! But if not, listen to them when they explain their stance to you.
That person isn’t you, and they’ll know whether a particular approach, or movement, or food will benefit them or not.
By trying to enforce your ideas upon them, you’re disrespecting them and infringing upon their personal sovereignty.
Furthermore, many people prefer to figure things out for themselves. They might feel irritated and annoyed by you telling them what they should be doing. And feel even more disempowered because they’re trying to be polite and not just tell you to shut up.
If you’re trying to tell them what they should be doing differently, and they let you know that they’re doing things another way, listen to them.
You don’t have to respect their method, but accept the fact that they want to go down that route, rather than yours.
Additionally, many people don’t listen to others, but just wait for their opportunity to speak. Try to listen actively instead, and respond sincerely.
2. Remember that people learn different things at different times.
Just because you mastered something by X age doesn’t mean that others will have done so as well. Everyone learns at their own pace, and learns different things at various ages.
For example, your family may have gone camping and you were an ace at lighting fires by age 10. You might be inclined to roll your eyes and get frustrated if friends or partners fumble with building one, because how can they not know this already?
Probably because they never had the opportunities that you did.
This might be the first fire they’ve ever built. It might be old hat to you, but it’s totally new to them. And they’d feel really awful with you sighing and letting them know everything they’re doing wrong.
They will learn in time, and you’d do a lot more for them with encouragement and understanding rather than being a jerk about it.
Think about a person who was given a car for their 16th birthday, and ended up driving it every day for 20 years. They might laugh at a person their own age who doesn’t have a driving license. But what if that other person was orphaned young and never had anyone to teach them? Or perhaps they have epilepsy or some other health issue that prevents them from being able to do so?
You may have perceptions of someone else’s shortcomings, but those are often your own biases, rather than the full picture.
3. Be humble, don’t overcompensate.
There’s such an enormous amount of knowledge and experience in the world. As such, you can rest assured that there are people out there who are wiser, stronger, more skilled, and smarter than you are.
You may be at the top of your immediate social circle, but step outside that enclave and you’ll find countless other circles beyond that.
Some people use condescension and arrogance as a shield for their own insecurities.
Did you grow up in an environment where you were constantly put down? Or your accomplishments weren’t acknowledged by others around you? If so, you may have built up your sense of self-worth by accruing knowledge.
As such, your ego is tied into how much you know. You might try to overcompensate in situations where you feel anxious by showing off your vast mental library. This is understandable, but can be very alienating to others.
Be open to the fact that you still have a lot to learn, just like everyone else on the planet. Even the most skilled warrior can learn new techniques from warriors of other realms.
4. Always ask first.
Have you ever felt frustration when someone else started lecturing you on a topic that you already knew well, because they assumed you knew nothing about it?
Others might feel the same way. You might be enthusiastic about a topic and start the conversation by informing them about this, that, and the other thing.
But did you ask them first what their familiarity was on the subject? Or did you merely assume that they were blank slates before immediately launching into professor mode?
You’ll probably feel a bit silly if you try to lecture someone on a topic in which they’re far more knowledgeable than you are.
This is why it’s always good practice to ask a person how familiar they are with a subject before you launch into it.
If they know nothing about it, ask if they want to hear about it. Should their answer be yes, then you have free rein to go right ahead and blow their minds.
And if they say they’re not interested, maybe ask if they’d like to discuss something different.
As an aside, sometimes when you ask someone their familiarity with a topic, you’ll discover that they don’t just know the subject at hand: they’re really enthusiastic about it! That can lead to some spectacular discussions and might be the start to great friendships.
5. Determine whether the other person wants your company or not.
This goes along with the above idea of not infringing upon someone else’s sovereignty.
You might be talking at someone who’s immensely knowledgeable about the subject you’re droning on about, but completely not in the mood to discuss it.
As such, they’re not engaging with you for a reason, and it isn’t because they don’t already know the subject inside out. It’s that they can’t be bothered to take part in this one-sided conversation.
Are you talking to this person because you want mutual discourse? Or because you just feel like talking about a subject, regardless of your company?
If this person weren’t in the room with you, would you still be talking to thin air?
6. Are you actually being condescending? Or are others being insecure?
A lot of people project their insecurities onto others, especially when they feel inferior.
For example, a person who doesn’t have an advanced vocabulary will accuse others of using “high-falutin words,” mocking them for using terms or phrases they don’t understand. It’s about bringing others down to a level that’s comfortable for them.
Similarly, a person who feels inferior because they don’t have certain skills or education will inform others that they’re being condescending, or show offs, when they display abilities or knowledge the other lacks.
Basically, accusing someone of being condescending or patronizing is a great way to silence that person so they stop making the accuser feel bad about their shortcomings.
7. Be aware of your audience.
Sometimes we need to adjust our vocabularies, energies, and even volume to suit the people we’re interacting with.
For example, we would simplify certain terms and phrases if we’re instructing children. That doesn’t mean that we talk down to them like they’re imbeciles.
Many people treat children with condescension, even unintentionally. This is often because they feel superior in a way, and feel that they are in a position to instruct the next generation.
It doesn’t show respect to these young people as sentient beings who are learning as they go along.
It’s better to mostly use terminology that they’re familiar with to help them understand a concept. That doesn’t mean that we can’t introduce new words, phrases, and techniques, but rather that we do so in between familiar ones so they feel curious, rather than inept.
The same goes for people of all ages. Just because someone is 80 instead of 8 doesn’t mean they aren’t still learning. Respect where a person is as far as their education and evolution are concerned, and meet them there without dumbing things down.
8. Are you being a lecturer?
Some people sincerely want to help others, but can’t quite wrap their heads around the fact that everything they’re saying is falling on deaf ears.
They might have a bit of a savior complex, or really want to impart their knowledge to others in the hope of improving their situation. But you know what? Nobody around them actually cares.
A person might go to a disadvantaged community and want to teach everyone there how to grow their own food, redirect clean water from a nearby lake, generate electricity via the waterfall close by… but they’re just not into it.
They’d rather watch TV, go buy cheap food, and complain about how they’re so hard done by.
And they’ll resent you for being condescending, and arrogant toward you for trying to be helpful.
Ultimately, the basic rule that everyone can follow is “don’t be a d*ck.”
Don’t waste your time trying to get through to people who don’t want to listen to you, as you’ll just end up getting upset and snarling at them.
Furthermore, stop associating with people whom you feel you need to inform all the time. You’ll get less frustrated, and they won’t feel condescended to.
Instead, surround yourself with people you can learn from, who challenge you, and sincerely enjoy your company. You’ll feel a lot happier and more fulfilled, as will they.
Is your condescension hurting your relationships or getting you in trouble? Need help to change your behavior? Speak to a therapist today who can walk you through the process. Simply click here to connect with one of the experienced therapists on BetterHelp.com.
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