Nothing can squash your confidence quite like someone talking down to you.
“When someone talks down to you, it can feel like they are taking away your sense of autonomy—knowing who you are and what you want, and competency—knowing what to do and how to do it,” says Dr. Jan Newman, PhD, a psychologist.
What is an example of being talked down to?
Psychologists say that condescending behavior can take several forms. For example, a person may explain something you already know (sometimes referred to culturally as “mansplaining,” Marty Cooper, PhD, LMHC, NCC says). Dr. Newman says a condescending person may try to tell you how to view yourself, feel or think.
Interrupting is another sign you’re being talked down to.
“It might sound like a wife interrupting her husband’s story at a dinner party to say something like, ‘What he meant to say was,'” Dr. Newman says.
A good rule of thumb: Trust your gut. “Remember, if you feel it as put down, it probably is,” says Dr. Harry Cohen, PhD.
How to respond to condescending people
1. “I have some additional thoughts.”
This phrase is non-confrontational but direct. Dr. Cooper suggests giving it a try if you’ve been shut down—perhaps even interrupted—by a condescending person with an opposing view.
2. “I would love to start over if you are ready to communicate like an adult.”
It’s saucy, but Dr. Brittany McGeehan, PhD, recommends using this phrase as part of a larger response.
She suggests saying, “I actually don’t tolerate being spoken down to as it’s disrespectful and erodes trust. I would love to start over if you are ready to communicate like an adult.”
Saucy? Yes—and Dr. McGeehan cautions that it is best to only direct toward specific people.
3. “I notice you seem really annoyed right now….it’s making me wonder if everything is okay with you?”
Dr. Preston loves the way this response exudes grace and strength under pressure.
“You indirectly address the condescension while also modeling that when someone seems to be having an emotional moment,” Dr. Preston says. “You are also flipping the attention from yourself to them and making them aware you are evaluating them.”
4. “I’d like to ask you respectfully not to address me in that way. I’d prefer…”
Delivered in a calm tone, Dr. Cohen says this phrase can diplomatically—but directly—stop the disrespect ASAP while offering a concrete Rx.
5. “Let me interrupt you right there…”
Sometimes, interrupting can be a flag for condescending behavior. Other times, it’s a way to put a stop to it.
6. “I don’t allow people to speak to me like this.”
Dr. Preston says this phrase is an excellent way to set a boundary. You might follow it with, “If you cannot treat me with respect, I’m going to leave this conversation, and we can try again when you feel you are more capable of being respectful.”
“You are directly commenting on the behavior you find unacceptable, communicating about what needs to change and indicating what will be the consequences if you do not see an immediate shift in behavior,” Dr. Preston says. “The other person likely is not used to people setting boundaries and sticking to them, so it will catch their attention.”
7. “I see it another way.”
If someone is talking over you and disregarding your opinion, this phrase can shift the focus of a one-sided conversation.
8. “I’ll wait for you to rephrase that in a respectful manner.”
Dr. McGeehan is a fan of this one because it sets a boundary.
“You want to make it clear that you aren’t willing to be treated in that way,” Dr. McGeehan says.
9. “I’m not sure what you’re putting down, but I’m not picking it up.”
Another tongue-in-cheek phrase, Dr. McGeehan recommends only using this one in personal settings and using a playful tone. Don’t worry. The person will still likely know you mean business.
10. “Let me take a moment and rephrase what you said because I don’t believe you intended to talk down to me.”
Dr. Preston says this one has short-term benefits for the condescending person and long-term benefits for your emotional well-being.
“It lets them save face for their put down but reminds them never to do it again,” Dr. Preston says.
11. “So what I’m hearing is X. Did I get that?”
Dr. McGeehan suggests using this phrase with someone who you just know is trying to get a rise out of you. It allows you to side-step. For example, a boss says, “You really need to work on your leadership skills if you want to get promoted. You’ve got a long way to go at this rate.”
12. “Ouch! Did you realize that what you said hurt?”
Dr. Cohen loves that this phrase directly addresses hurt feelings. But the question keeps it from sounding too accusatory.
“This allows a quick amends,” Dr. Cohen says.
Is it ever okay not to respond to someone talking down to you?
Of course. Experts share that sometimes the best response is no response—or at least a delayed one. For instance, it’s best to wait if you’re not emotionally regulated. Dr. Newman asks her clients to rate their stress levels on a scale of 1 to 10.
“Our anchor point is usually that anything over a six will require more regulation and coping first,” Dr. Newman says. “If you’re not regulated, then the pivot is going to be to bookmark the conversation until you’re calmer.”
Another time that it’s best for you just to let the condescending nature fly? You’re dealing with a narcissistic ex.