20 Signs Of A Condescending Person (And How To Deal With Them)

Dealing with a condescending person can be challenging and emotionally draining. Their dismissive attitude and belittling comments can destroy your self-esteem and create tension in pretty much any kind of relationship. However, recognizing the signs of condescension and knowing how to handle such difficult people can help you navigate these situations a little bit easier.

Read on for some ways to recognize this behavior, some tips to deal with it, and some insight into why it happens in the first place.

1. They’re always using patronizing language.

You know that feeling when someone talks to you like you’re a clueless kid, even though you’re both adults? That’s patronizing language in action. This type of person might use a tone that’s too sweet, overly simplistic explanations, or even sarcastic comments meant to belittle.

When someone consistently talks down to you or makes you feel like you couldn’t possibly understand something, it’s a sign they’re coming from a condescending place. It’s as if they’re saying, “Trust me, I know best,” even when the topic is something you’re well-versed in.

2. They interrupt you and disregard your opinions.

Conversation is a two-way street, but with a condescending person, it might feel more like a one-way cul-de-sac. They have a knack for interrupting, often cutting you off mid-sentence to share their “more informed” perspective. And even if they let you finish your point, they might brush it off or trivialize your thoughts.

It’s frustrating because it feels like they believe their opinions hold more weight or are inherently more valid than yours. A healthy discussion values all voices; it’s not just a platform for one person’s so-called expertise.

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4. They have negative body language and tone.

Sometimes it’s not just the words, but how they’re delivered. A person might be dripping with sarcasm, roll their eyes, or have that smirk that screams, “I know better.” Their body language, too, might be dismissive – think crossed arms, looking elsewhere when you’re speaking, or even that sigh that seems to question why they’re bothering with this conversation.

Tone and body language are powerful communicators. When they’re consistently negative or dismissive, it’s a clear sign the person you’re dealing with may have a condescending streak.

5. They make assumptions that are completely unwarranted.

Ever been in a situation where someone acts like they’ve got you all figured out based on next to nothing? It’s like they’ve woven this narrative about you without taking the time to actually know you. These baseless assumptions can be maddening because they show a lack of genuine interest in understanding who you are.

Instead of asking questions or being curious, they jump to conclusions, often painting you in a less-than-flattering light. This behavior isn’t just presumptuous; it’s downright condescending, as it suggests they believe they’re astute enough to judge without real knowledge.

6. They dismiss your feelings or concerns.

One of the most exasperating things about a condescending person is how they can belittle your emotions or concerns. You might open up about something that’s bothering you, only to have them brush it off with a “you’re overreacting” or “it’s not that big of a deal.”

By downplaying what you feel, they’re basically saying your emotions or worries aren’t valid or important. Everyone deserves to be heard and understood, and dismissing someone’s feelings is a big red flag that the person you’re dealing with lacks empathy and respect.

7. They’re always criticizing or nitpicking you.

Nothing you do seems good enough for this person. Whether it’s the way you’ve completed a task or just a casual comment you’ve made, they’re always quick to point out flaws or offer “better” ways of doing things. It’s not constructive feedback; it’s relentless nitpicking meant to show their supposed superiority.

Continual criticism, especially over minor things, can wear you down. It’s as if they’re on a never-ending quest to highlight their expertise at your expense. When someone’s always on your case about the little things, it’s a clear sign they’re coming from a condescending place.

8. They’re constantly correcting you.

It’s one thing to offer a correction when it’s genuinely needed or asked for, but it’s a whole other ballpark when someone is always on the lookout for any tiny slip-up you make, just so they can swoop in and “correct” you. From pronunciation to factual tidbits, they’re always at the ready, making sure you know they’ve caught your mistake.

While everyone gets things wrong now and then, a condescending person relishes these moments as opportunities to display their perceived superiority. If you feel like you’re always under the microscope with someone waiting to pounce, it’s likely you’re dealing with a condescending character.

9. They undermine your achievements.

Landing a new job, completing a project, or just handling life’s curveballs should be celebrated. But a condescending person? They might make it seem like what you’ve achieved is no big deal or even imply you had it easy.

Instead of giving credit where it’s due, they might downplay your success or hint that you had an unfair advantage. By doing this, they’re trying to keep you a notch below them, ensuring the spotlight remains firmly on their own achievements or capabilities.

10. They withhold information or opportunities.

A condescending person might withhold vital information or opportunities from you, making you feel sidelined or out of touch. It’s like they enjoy having an upper hand, knowing something you don’t. By keeping you in the dark, they position themselves as the gatekeepers of knowledge or opportunities, asserting a sense of control or dominance.

When someone consistently doesn’t share or keeps things just out of your reach, it can be a tactic to keep you dependent on them or to showcase their perceived superiority.

11. They make comparisons you could really do without.

Unsolicited comparisons can be a real confidence-killer. You might find that a condescending person often contrasts you with others, not to motivate, but to subtly put you down. “Jane managed to get that done in half the time,” or “Mike would have approached it differently.”

By making these unwarranted comparisons, they’re indirectly suggesting you’re not up to par or that others are inherently better in some way. Instead of evaluating your work or efforts on their own merits, they use others as a yardstick to underline your supposed shortcomings.

12. They belittle your choices or personal tastes.

Everyone has their unique tastes and preferences, whether it’s in music, fashion, food, or hobbies. A condescending person, however, might scoff at or belittle your choices. “You listen to Taylor Swift?” or “I can’t believe you liked ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.'”

It’s not about having a difference in tastes; it’s about them implying that their preferences are superior or more refined. By ridiculing what you love or choose, they’re trying to assert themselves as the more cultured or discerning person.

13. They imply that you’re incompetent by micromanaging you.

Micromanagement is exhausting. It’s one thing to provide guidance or feedback, but it’s another when someone is constantly hovering over you, second-guessing every move you make. This incessant need to oversee and control can stem from a condescending belief that you can’t handle things on your own. It feels like they don’t trust your judgment, skills, or capabilities.

If you’re always being told exactly how to do something, even tasks you’re entirely familiar with, it’s likely because they want to underline their dominance and spotlight any potential error you might make.

14. They undermine your expertise.

No matter how skilled or knowledgeable you are in a particular field, a condescending person seems to have a knack for making you feel like a novice. You might share a well-informed opinion or solution, only to have them question its validity or offer an unsolicited “better” way. They might even insinuate that your expertise isn’t genuine or as refined as theirs.

It’s frustrating because it feels like they’re constantly trying to overshadow or diminish your credibility, even in areas where you clearly have experience or education.

15. They use sarcasm and mockery a lot.

Sarcasm can be fun when it’s among friends, but when it’s continually used to mock or belittle, it becomes a tool of condescension. Comments like, “Oh, brilliant observation!” when you state something obvious or “You think?” with that mocking tone can quickly drain one’s confidence.

It’s not about playful banter; it’s about using sarcasm as a veil to deliver cutting remarks or to emphasize their perceived superiority. When someone frequently resorts to mockery, especially at your expense, it’s a clear sign they’re trying to keep you in a diminished position.

16. They dismiss your perspective as unimportant.

Everyone’s perspective is shaped by their experiences, knowledge, and values. However, a condescending person might brush off your viewpoint as trivial or uninformed. Instead of engaging in a healthy discussion, they might act as if what you’re sharing isn’t even worth considering. It’s as though your lens on the world isn’t as clear or valuable as theirs.

Dismissing someone’s perspective outright is more than just disagreeing; it’s suggesting that your thoughts and feelings don’t have a valid place in the conversation.

17. They’re always giving backhanded compliments.

Backhanded compliments are those sneaky remarks that start off sounding positive but have a sting in the tail. Think comments like, “You’re so brave for wearing that outfit!” or “You did a great job, especially for someone with your experience.” Instead of leaving you feeling appreciated, you’re left scratching your head, wondering if it was really a compliment at all.

It’s their subtle way of putting you down while masquerading as praise. When someone frequently dishes out these double-edged remarks, it’s a sign they’re trying to keep you off balance.

18. They have a patronizing tone.

It’s not always what’s said, but how it’s said. A patronizing tone carries an air of superiority, making you feel like you’re being talked down to. It can be that overly sweet voice, a slow and exaggerated manner of speaking, or even an overly simplistic explanation for something you clearly understand.

This tone is their way of subtly suggesting that you might not be on their level, even if their words might seem innocuous on the surface. Recognizing this tone is key because it’s often the delivery, rather than the content, that carries the condescension.

18. They express pity or sympathy for literally no reason.

Comments like, “Oh, it must be so hard for you,” when discussing everyday situations or, “I can’t imagine being in your shoes,” when there’s no apparent adversity, can feel off-putting. It’s as if they’re positioning themselves in a more favorable or superior situation, even if there’s no basis for such pity.

If someone is consistently offering misplaced sympathy, it’s likely not genuine concern but an attempt to subtly elevate themselves above you.

20. They talk over you.

Being talked over is more than just an annoying conversation habit; it can be a clear sign of condescension. When someone consistently speaks over you, it suggests they believe what they have to say is more important, more valid, or simply more worth hearing than what you’re contributing.

It’s a power move, a way of dominating the conversation and ensuring their voice is the most prominent. If you notice you’re frequently struggling to get a word in or that your points are often drowned out before you can make them, it’s likely you’re dealing with someone who’s putting themselves on a conversational pedestal.

21. They use exaggerated gestures or facial expressions.

Body language speaks volumes. A condescending person might roll their eyes dramatically when you speak, give over-the-top sighs, or use exaggerated hand gestures to “explain” things to you. These theatrics aren’t just for show; they’re a non-verbal way of expressing their perceived superiority.

For instance, a big sigh might suggest they find the conversation tedious or beneath them. Or an exaggerated hand gesture, as if simplifying something complex, can be their way of implying you wouldn’t “get it” otherwise. Recognizing these excessive cues can help you pinpoint when someone’s attitude is leaning more towards patronizing than genuine.

How to deal with a condescending person

We’ve all been there: stuck in a conversation with someone who’s laying the condescension on thick. They talk down, roll their eyes, and make you feel two inches tall. But hey, you’re not alone, and you certainly don’t have to let it slide. Here’s a straightforward guide on how to handle those oh-so-patronizing folks without losing your cool:

1. Stay calm and collected.

First and foremost, don’t let them see you sweat. Your composure can be your superpower. By staying calm and being the cool girl (or guy or human), you’re showing them that their attempts to undermine you aren’t working.

2. Assert yourself — don’t be shy!

Remember, you have a voice. Use it. Politely but firmly stand your ground when you feel you’re being talked down to. A simple, “I hear what you’re saying, but I see it differently,” can go a long way.

3. Ask for clarification.

Sometimes, putting the ball in their court can shake things up. Ask them, “What did you mean by that?” or “Can you explain that further?” It might make them rethink their words.

4. Limit your interaction with them if possible.

If someone’s constantly condescending, it’s okay to distance yourself. You’re not obliged to endure negativity, especially if it’s affecting your well-being.

5. Talk to your friends or even other colleagues about it, if it’s a work thing.

Chat with trusted friends or colleagues about your experiences. Sometimes, an outside perspective can provide clarity, support, or even strategies you hadn’t considered.

6. Remember your worth.

At the end of the day, someone else’s condescension is a reflection of them, not you. Remind yourself of your strengths, achievements, and worth. Don’t let anyone’s misguided superiority dim your shine.

Why people condescend

1. They’re incredibly insecure.

Ironically, the person who might be puffing their chest the most might also be battling some deep-seated insecurities. Being condescending can be a defense mechanism. By making someone else feel small, they temporarily soothe their own feelings of inadequacy. So, next time you come across someone who’s continually trying to one-up you or belittle your accomplishments, remember: it might just be a reflection of their own inner struggles and insecurities.

2. They have a superiority complex.

Some folks genuinely believe they’re better than everyone else. This superiority complex isn’t just about feeling more knowledgeable; it’s about viewing oneself as more valuable or worthy. This mindset often manifests as condescension because they see others as beneath them, not worthy of equal respect or consideration. Their world is very hierarchical, with them firmly at the top. Conversations aren’t exchanges of ideas but rather opportunities to reinforce their elevated status.

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3. They lack empathy.

Condescending people often struggle in this department. If they truly understood how their words and actions made others feel, they might think twice before acting superior. A lack of empathy means they don’t fully grasp (or care about) the impact of their behavior. Instead of connecting or building bridges, they’re more focused on their own perspective, often to the detriment of those around them.

4. They need to be in control.

For some, condescension is a control tactic. By keeping others off-balance, they maintain a position of power. It’s not just about feeling superior; it’s about wielding that perceived superiority to steer situations in their favor. Think of the coworker who undermines others in a meeting to keep the spotlight firmly on themselves, or the friend who belittles others’ choices to remain the dominant voice in decision-making.

5. Their communication style needs serious work.

Maybe they’ve developed bad habits, or nobody taught them the nuances of healthy interaction. They tend to talk at people instead of with them, making their approach come off as patronizing. Poor listening skills can lead them to make assumptions or dismiss others, and if they’re not open to feedback, they might remain blissfully unaware of the negative impact of their habits. In essence, they’re like a radio slightly off the station, emitting signals that just don’t align with everyone else, leading to unintentional condescension.

Sinead Cafferty is a writer who has authored four collections of poetry: "Dust Settling" (2012); "The Space Between" (2014); "Under, Under, Over" (2016); and "What You Can't Have" (2020). She's currently working on her first novel, a dystopian romance set in the 22nd Century, that's due out in 2024.

Sinead has an MFA in creative writing from NYU and has had residencies with the Vermont Studio Center and the National Center for Writing.