8 Condescending Things a Manager Should Avoid Saying to an Employee by Dan McCarthy

8 Condescending Things a Manager Should Avoid Saying to an Employee


Condescending: having or showing a feeling of patronizing superiority

Most managers would be shocked if they found out they were seen as condescending. If confronted by a brave employee, they would probably deny it (“that’s not what I meant”, or “you’re being too sensitive”).
However, even decent managers sometimes say things to their employees, with good intentions, that may come across as condescending. Given how hesitant most employees are about giving feedback, they may never know how they’ve made the employee feel.

Below are 8 things that run the risk as coming across as condescending. I say “run the risk”, because there are always exceptions, and context is everything. Also, it’s often not what is said, it’s how it’s said – the tone of the message.
A simple phase like “How are you doing today” can come across as condescending if truly someone feels that they are superior to the other person.

Then there’s my favorite, when you try to disagree with a boss, and they respond by talking LOUDER and slooower to you, in order to help you understand.
Whatever the case, just beware of the following phrases … and please excuse my condescending remarks after each phrase. (-:

1. “I’m not a detail person, but Leslie here is, so she’ll take care of that stuff”.
I really doubt that Leslie loves slogging through those mundane details any more than you do, but she has to – it’s her job, and not yours, so she does it. And because she takes pride in her work, she does it well, just like you do. So don’t call her out in front of others as a “detail” person, as if it’s in her DNA, and pat yourself on the back for being a big-shot “big picture” person.
A similar condensing bit of “praise” is something like “Hey, let me introduce you to Leslie – she’s the one who really runs things around here, not me (har har har)”. 

No, she really doesn’t – you do. Leslie is simply doing her job, stuff she’s supposed to do.

2. “Don’t worry about it”, or “It’s no big deal”.
It may not be a big deal to you, but it must be a big deal to your employee, or they would not have brought it up. You need to take the time to listen, and find out why the employee is concerned, and then take the opportunity to coach the employee to help them find a solution. 

3. “Oh, you sound just like my son/daughter/wife/ex-wife/husband/grandmother or any other family member.”
In other words, you’re just as clueless as one of my family members are. This is just another way of dismissing the employee’s concern or idea.

4. “Well, that sounds good in theory, but in the real world….”
So what world are you saying your employee is from? Gee, maybe you might want to take some time to hear the employee’s “theory” out, and check your real-world assumptions at the door for a moment.

5. “I don’t have time to deal with this – figure it out, that’s your job”.
While this may be true, again, you’re missing a great opportunity to coach. And oh yeah, that’s your job – to coach and develop your employees. 

6. “I know you’re feeling ______ right now, but you really shouldn’t because…”
Never assume you know what an employee is feeling or tell them how they should be feeling. Ask them how they feel, and acknowledge it by responding with empathy.

7. “You don’t seem to understand…”, or, “I don’t think you’re listening to me…”
Well, maybe they do, or they are, and just don’t agree with you. Try finding out why, you might learn something.

8. “Well, you’re the first one to complain about this – no one else seems to have a problem with it”.
That’s because no one else had the cojones to speak up. And if you ask the others if they “have a problem with it”, you’ll hear exactly what you want to hear, not the truth.

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