how to deal with a condescending boss

How to Handle a Condescending Boss

Condescending Boss

Dealing with an arrogant boss does not rank on on the list of favorite work activities!  How to deal with a condescending boss who thinks he knows all the answers and looks down on you?

We’ll explore 3 alternatives and provide guidance to help you navigate these challenging waters adroitly.  As an added twist, the condescending boss in this case study is a board member in charge of a committee you are serving. The principals involved are the same as with a full time boss. We’ll also discuss how to deal with the added ad hoc element.

The Situation

You are in charge of an annual charity golf tournament your company sponsors every year. While the participating country club handles all the golfing details, you do a lot of work on running the event and the closing banquet on the last day.

An important part of the event’s success is getting the support of key Board members who want to be involved. Not only do they have access to a lot of resources, they also can ensure participation from their friends and colleagues.

The Gerald Problem

You work with one Board member, Gerald, who is the retired president of an insurance company, and head of the golf tournament committee. His behavior is often Q1 arrogance.

When Someone Talks Down To You

He’s not so much openly hostile or aggressive as he is condescending, egotistical and a know-it-all. He assumes you will recognize his supreme ideas and suggestions. He expects respect for his superior knowledge and stature. As a result, he tends to talk down to you.

Unfortunately, a number of his ideas are either out of date or just not a good fit. For instance, he wanted to move the closing banquet to the day after the final golf round.

How Do You Deal with a Condescending Manager?

Ultimately, he cannot force you to accept his ideas when they are weak. However, he has unofficial power that could potentially damage your efforts via his lack of support for the event.

How should you deal with a condescending boss?  Should you…

A.  Don’t confront Gerald, especially in front of others. Agree to consider his ideas, but later disregard those that are bad. You can make amends later, but you can’t jeopardize the project.

B.  Do your best to use Gerald’s ideas, even the unsound ones. Anything he suggests can’t be as bad as the withdrawal of his support if you reject his ideas.

C.  Always acknowledge Gerald for his experience and contributions. If his ideas can be tweaked, try to find a compromise. When you can’t go along with an idea, explain your reasoning.

How to Deal with a Condescending Boss

Dimensional Model of Behavior







Say Yes to Appease, But Dismiss What You Don’t Agree With

Choice A, sidestepping working with Gerald, is not a good idea. He’s too powerful a figure in your company. True, you don’t want to be confrontational with Q1 behavior in a public setting. If you want Gerald’s cooperation, you need to give him respect and allow him to save face.

But it’s not Q4 leadership — and it’s certainly two-faced — to say yes in a meeting while knowing you’ll just dismiss the idea afterward. That’s not managing behavior; it’s avoidance on your part. And what will you do when Gerald learns that you buried his idea? Won’t his Q1 reaction be worse than if you had dealt with him honestly earlier? See Answer C.

Just Accept the Boss’ Ideas, Even if You Disagree

This strategy, choice B, negates your skills as a Q4 collaborative leader. You were put in charge of this event because you are supposed to work with the many people involved in making it a big success. That includes Gerald.

The difference between this answer and the previous one is that this one allows bad ideas to make it into your project! This is Q2 acquiescence–a natural, initial reaction to how to deal with a condescending boss. Trust that with a Q4 approach, you can manage Gerald’s Q1 behavior. You are in charge, not Gerald. See answer C, which keeps Gerald as an important player, while also helping him handle rejection when your decision goes against him. 

Listen to Your Boss’ Ideas. Look to compromise if You Disagree.

The farther you rise as a leader of a company, the more you will have to work with people who have an informal power advantage: board members, friends of the boss, unofficial advisors, influential clients, stakeholders, and important stockholders.

With someone like Gerald, your test as a Q4 leader is to acknowledge his contributions. Some are good, even if he tends to present them with a Q1 insistence or condescension. Those that aren’t as good might be tweaked so that they do no harm. But including Gerald might go a long way toward maintaining his enthusiasm for this event.

So, he wants a big banner over the entrance at the clubhouse that you hadn’t budgeted. You might get him to be okay with something just as glitzy, but less expensive. As for Gerald touting a suggestion you just cannot approve, you might discuss it privately with him right away, showing that he is valued. Keep him in the loop. You might have an alternative that would still recognize him and gain his support.

Leadership usually requires working with important people who aren’t on the organizational chart. Put those Q4 skills to work engaging others, but be firm and maintain your leadership role. This is your most effective path in how to deal with a condescending boss.

Beyond Dealing with a Condescending Boss

If you enjoyed this case study on how to deal with a condescending boss, we have 40 more leadership tips on other challenging people situations.

Check out also our Do You Work with a Difficult Person Behavioral Questionnaire to gain practical tips for your situation.

Knowing how to lead in difficult people situations is one thing. Being able to do it consistently in practice is the next step. Our Q4 Leadership Workshop, available in classroom or virtual, is a great tool to bring your people leadership skills to the next level.

Finally, be sure to sign up for our newsletter to keep abreast of upcoming events and new people leadership information.

Related Insights