UPDATED: Work Question Re Condescending Supervisor...

Updated on March 19, 2013
J.B. asks from Dayton, OH
12 answers

How would you handle a supervisor at work being very condescending to you? If you had tried being professional and letting it slide, but it continues..how would you tactfully & professionally say something? Or do you? Thanks in advance, I appreciate any help you offer.

ETA: by condescending, I mean, makes you feel stupid in front of other people - not always by the actual words spoken, but the tone of voice - sometimes like a childish mockery. And she tends to get upset when others come to me with questions that she feels should have gone to her instead..wants any answer I'm giving out, run by her first..which makes me feel like a child. I should add that I'm not new to this job..I'm very capable of giving an answer without running it by her first. Honestly, I know she is VERY busy & I would think she wouldn't want to be bothered with EVERY detail.

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Thanks, everyone. You've all given me alot to think about & I appreciate the time you took to respond to my question.

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answers from Dallas on

Be direct.

Do you have a problem with me? Are you concerned with my quality of work? Because if we can address it directly, I would really appreciate it.

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answers from Kansas City on

it depends. if you have been there quite awhile and are on good terms with other employees/managers, and you trust the HR department, i might try talking to them. our HR lady is very good at addressing these kinds of things. it is part of your supervisor's job to help the team work to its full capacity and most productive - putting employees down or being derisive and openly treating them like they're stupid, doesn't do that. so this supervisor isn't doing her job. another idea might be to go above her head. again if you have been there awhile, are well respected, that might be an option. bottom line, nothing can be done about a bad boss, if no one speaks up.

if you don't trust the company to deal with it correctly, feel they would blindly side with her, then yes, i think it's time to find another job. either do what you can to fix the situation, or find a new situation.

(no, i would not talk to her. it's obvious she is not open to "criticism" from you - no matter how nice you made it, no matter how professional and friendly you were about it, she would probably take offense. and then your boss REALLY has it "in" for you...doesn't she sound like that type? no, i wouldn't say anything to her. that's not the way to do it in an office setting..)

ETA- just to play devil's advocate for one moment - it is possible that you don't see it, but you're stepping on her toes. i just had to tell someone the other day, "it's great that you are trying to cover yourself (when i was away from my desk and she needed to take an emergency personal call) by talking to X, but X is not a supervisor- next time you can just take the call, and let me know via email, or when you get back." "X" is someone who is NOT a supervisor, but is constantly trying to "manage" the office. she has been there the longest, and yes, knows a lot about a lot of things - but she is not in charge, and she tends to act like she is. so in this situation, i felt she was acting "in charge" - rather than letting the girl come to me, she felt the need to bustle over to my desk as soon as i got back and inform me that she told the girl to go ahead and take her call. she takes charge of stuff like this (that is none of her concern) constantly. so yes, i felt she was trying to "manage" when it's not her place.

we are only hearing your side of the story - and my answer is the same, talk to HR or talk to this person's superior. but it is possible your supervisor might feel her toes are being stepped on, unduly. just a thought. like i said, we're only seeing your side of it.

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answers from Chicago on

Don't let him/her break your spirit and bring you down to their level. People do this in order to make themselves feel important. Keep being you. Keep being professional. And if necessary, began searching for another position within or outside of the company. But don't let anyone take you down to their level. Ever!

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answers from Norfolk on

She's a control freak.
I've seen it in managers before.
If anyone comes to YOU, it makes her feel like they are doing an end run around her - which makes her feel insecure and then to counter that feeling she has to 'put you in your place'.
These kind of bosses run the gamut from being mildly annoying to psychotic.
There was a team building exercise among management at a place I worked where management went through an informal group therapy.
The conclusion for my boss was that he could benefit by seeking some professional help.
I almost fell over laughing when I heard it.
I could have told them he needed his head examined for a WHOLE lot less than the company paid the consulting firm.

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answers from Miami on

I would schedule a meeting with her and have a guarded and guided discussion with her. Ask her to give you some parameters regarding when she would like things referred to her versus when she feels you can handle things and fill her in later.

I had a supervisor like this as well. She was brilliant and used to have my job before being promoted, so she had a hard time letting me do it "my way", which is what I was hired to do! I also supervised several people and she often "jumped in" which made them uncomfortable because it became unclear as to who they should come to with concerns or issues.

Bottom line is that she and I had a meeting. It was scheduled and not "on the fly" and I point blank asked her (respectfully) what her expectations were of me with respect to... and we went through various job capacities where she was overstepping. I didn't point that out to her, but in asking her to outline her expectations of ME, she realized (on her own) that she was trying to do her job and mine at the same time. We didn't need to have the conversation again.

I also asked/suggested that she and I have a scheduled (on the calendar) meeting every-other-week to touch base of each of those items we outlines. Basically we spent 30-45 minutes going over "where we were" on various projects. After a few weeks, she stopped asking me 50 times about individual items because she was comfortable with the idea that we could go over it during our scheduled meetings.

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answers from Columbia on

Can you provide some examples of *condescending*? How long have you worked for this supervisor? Did you work for another supervisor before this one? Why is that supervisor no longer in position?

I agree with being direct. Ask if there is a problem with your work because you feel when s/he says "XYZ" it makes you feel "123".

You may just have a personality conflict. I am a very direct supervisor. I'm not "fluff". I've always run one of the most productive sections in any company I've ever worked for.... but every so often I get an employer who wants me to ask how they are, personally. Engage in chit chat. Ask about this kids and stuff. NOPE. I am direct and to the point. Some don't like that. But if my supervisor wanted me to engage in fluff, I would. because they are my supervisor. So, if they ask how my daughter is.... I answer and then ask how her kids are. My opinion is that you match the style of your boss. Unless there is a lack of professionalism, you either let it go or you go find another job where your "styles" mesh.

But I don't know the specifics.... so I'm guessing it's a personality conflict.

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answers from Portland on

You cannot change her. This is her personality. Also it sounds like she's insecure and acting this way is a defense mechanism. Any action on your part to improve your relationship with her, she'll see as criticism.

Work on accepting her the way she is. And find ways to build her up. Don't take offense when others run things by her first. I suggest that they're aware she needs them to do this and are taking care of themselves by taking care of her.

Do not allow yourself to feel like a child. You know you aren't. You can learn how to maintain a confident feeling in spite of the way someone else treats you. When you begin to feel this way, immediately pat yourself on the back while telling yourself that you know you're OK. I've had to just repeat over and over to myself when dealing with this sort of person saying in my mind, "I'm OK. I'm OK" before being able to be responsible and respond in an adult manner.

Recognize that she is not you and her reasons for doing something will not be the reasons you would or would not. It's counter productive for you to think that she wouldn't want to be bothered. Accept that she does want to be bothered and bother her. Ascertain what will make her more comfortable and she'll be less challenging for you.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

O., "condescending" can mean a wide range of goings to different people.
Without examples to see here, I would suggest that you make a note of the date & summary of and PERFORMANCE related issues and address them specifically at your yearly review/goal setting session.
Don't mistake a businesslike comment for condescension.
And I certainly NOT be directly confrontational by saying "Do. You have a problem with me/my work?"
If anything, you need to ask if what you're doing is OK and if not, ask for feedback on how to improve your performance.

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answers from Washington DC on

She is a micro-manager.

Have you tried having lunch with her to get this out and resolved?

If you don't feel you can do that. Go to your HR department and give them a heads up on what is going on. Ask them for guidance.

Communication can really make a difference. I cannot say this enough. REALLY try talking to her. Tell her "I feel..." so that you don't automatically put her on the defensive by saying "YOU MAKE ME FEEL" - start it out - "Jane - I'd really like to talk to you about some things that are bothering me. I feel....
I understand and know you are busy...therefore, I answer questions because I didn't think you wanted to be bothered..." EXPLAIN things...tell her YOUR SIDE...Open up the dialogue!!

Good luck!

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answers from San Francisco on

How long have you been employed? Who hired you? What do you mean condensending? Can you be a bit more specific.

Need more info.

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answers from Hartford on

I think that she's a micro-manager, and wants to be sure that things are run properly in her office. It sounds as if you're stepping on her toes. My suggestion is, instead of taking it personally, remember that she would do this to anyone that would be fielding the questions that ought to go to the manager. And then when people do go to you direct them to go to her. If she IS too busy, then she can send them back to you when she realizes how much you actually were helping her.

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answers from Las Vegas on

I had a boss who was not only condescending but VERY mean and was always inappropriate. I tolerated a lot from her and finally began to speak up.. However, that didn't work. Eventually, I went to her boss and said that she was just too verbally abusive... He talked to her and while she did tone it down for awhile, she nonetheless got nasty again... Eventually, I began to document everything and just when I couldn't take it anymore, she was fired :) However, looking back.. I should have documented everything from the get go, confronted her (giving solid, valid examples of her condescending behavior) and then if she didn't change, go to HR...
IF you truly feel that you have done all that you can... this includes pulling her aside and speaking to her, then I would go to HR and consider moving to a different department... But I think before you do that, it's important that you have clear, concise examples of what is taking place..
Now you may think, why should I be the one to move.. True, why... then again, you have to weigh it all out.. what is your happiness worth to you.... I dealt with my previous boss for FIVE years.... of course I was younger then... now as someone older, I realize five years if way too long to put up with someone's bad behavior..

good luck

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