Q&A: My Male Coworker is Constantly Patronizing

Hi Jen! I’m in need of your advice. I just started working on my first project at a new office. I’m working with a guy who has been there about a year. He talks down to me and is condescending and patronizing. I work remotely (although eventually we will meet at some point), so I don’t know if he’s a dick to everyone, or just me. I don’t want bring this up to my boss and be the new girl who’s already complaining, but how do I shut this guy down and get some respect?

My general modus operandi would be to:

1) deal with the guy as little, or as factually and objectively, as possible,

2) use this as an opportunity to bond (also called “networking”) with other women who get the same treatment from him, and

3) maximize your other options so if you stay in this situation, it’s a reasoned choice, not a trap.

If you know in advance when you’re going to be dealing with him, maybe watch some Glengarry Glen Ross clips on Youtube or read the most violent bits of Hemingway you can find or just look at a picture of Don Draper while you’re on the phone. How would those kinds of dudes respond?

You probably can’t make your voice sound like a shouty, intimidating Kevin Spacey or Jon Hamm, though. I find that the best thing is to say whatever Don Draper would say, but in a sort of dry, dead, factual monotone. Kind of an unimpressed androgynous robot voice.

I also do fairly well with my schoolmarm persona, in which the condescending dude is treated, by me, like a toddler who is throwing a tantrum, and I, ideally, tap into something deep in the guy’s psyche from back when he was four and some towering lady with glasses on a chain shamed him for peeing his pants.

All that said, I decided to ask a Respectable Corporate Dude and Friend of Bullish, who said:

Well, that sucks.

I don’t know that bringing it up to her boss would be a good idea even if she weren’t new. Bosses have limited power to deal with passive-aggressive behavior, which condescension is. Also, they often lack the requisite skills anyway. Often you’re on your own when it comes to dealing with difficult people.

I don’t think talking to the guy directly about the pattern of behavior is going to be effective. Instead, I think she should identify ways to highlight and challenge the behavior when it happens. This would require consistency and patience. For example, she could say “You know, you don’t have to explain to me every single time how to fill out the TPS report. I’ve got it.” Or “Maybe you don’t remember, but I deloused the kernel last week, and I haven’t forgotten how.

Another approach takes advantage of the fact that she’s working remotely. If the guy is sending patronizing e-mails, she can reply politely and cc the boss—just to keep her in the loop, not to complain directly. It’s possible the boss will pick up on it. I wouldn’t expect anything to be done, but at least someone else will be aware of how he is behaving. And if he’s just condescending on the phone, she can later send a task-related e-mail to him with the boss cc-ed that says “Per our conversation earlier in which you said [patronizing thing], I did [whatever thing I did despite your being a dick].”

No one has the magic answer to “how to make people who don’t respect you start respecting you,” but this is pretty good.

Also, it’s worth noting that some men talk to all twentysomething women that way. There are literally men out there who think that, for instance, women over 30 aren’t fuckable, but women under 30 are all stupid and pointless, except for fucking. These men are irredeemable. It’s also the case that plenty of men who aren’t that bad have maybe a touch of this — this kind of idea like, “What, these girls want to have all the sexual power and compete in the workplace too? UNFAIR, vagina-haver. Smackdown.”

I don’t know how old you are, but my point is that, while you hear all the time how awful aging is for women, this sort of thing will probably naturally lessen as you age, which is an unfair way for the world to work, but an added bonus to the aging process!