"Reversal of fortune? No way. Reversal of skill." -Uffish Thought
Question #91308 posted on 05/21/2018 10:12 a.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

How can I stop being so condescending? I thought that I was occasionally condescending for comedic effect, but I have recently been informed that I sound condescending all the time, which is really not something I want to continue doing. I guess part of it is that I don't know when I'm doing it, and another part is that I don't know how to sound sincere when I say certain things.

Please help.

-Rainatur

A:

Dear Rainataur,

Don't be too hard on yourself! Everyone has things they do or say that they don't realize come off differently than intended. It's very self-aware that you've figured out something you do that others might take the wrong way and a good first step for improvement.

One thing that could help is trying to see how the person you're talking to might take what you're saying. Think about how you'd feel if they were saying the same thing to you. Would you find it funny or feel a little hurt or patronized by their response? If the latter, maybe rephrase what you're going to say in a more down-to-earth way. Or, if you have a particularly thick skin, think about what you know about this person and whether they're more sensitive. If you don't know the person, aim on the safe side.

Also, another thing is listening and validating someone's thoughts rather than necessarily giving advice all the time. Sometimes when people talk about what's going on in their lives, they're more looking for understanding than advice exactly. If they ask for advice, then that's another story, but it could help to try listening to the person first and then offering advice after. 

Kind of going along with that, it could also help to understand what someone's saying before correcting them, if that's something you do often. Being more open to input and other people's knowledge could help you see things from another perspective and tone down any condescending tendencies. Everyone has a different perspective on life, and sometimes listening to their's is more productive and less condescending than proving what's the right or wrong way to look at an issue.

Hopefully that helps a little. If not, you could always talk to close friends and family members to get their perspective on how you talk and ways you could sound more approachable. Again, don't beat yourself up about it, and best of luck!

-Van Goff

A:

Dear Rainatur,

I'm now going to give you the same advice as Van Goff (because it's fantastic advice), but I'm gonna say it in a more direct way for emphasis.

If you want to be seen as less condescending, stop giving advice. Just validate what other people say and then stop. Almost all of the time, this is what they want anyway. If someone directly asks for your advice, give it, but still let it be known that you don't know everything about the situation -- that the other person is the expert in their own life. For example, you have directly asked for advice here, so I'm giving it, but I realize that I could be completely wrong about what it is you are asking so none of my advice may apply. I'm just giving the advice that, in general, I perceive that people who I would describe as condescending could use.

Also, stop mansplaining (whether you're a man or not). Teach yourself to assume that people (especially women, people of color, LGBTQ people, or other marginalized groups) know things without you telling them. Consider that ideas which are new to you are not new to everyone. Think through the implications of that before you speak.

Watch what little phrases you use. Phrases that express surprise that someone did well or that play up the enthusiasm too much can definitely be condescending. Watch out for those.

Best of luck.

- The Black Sheep

P.S. Before you ever use the phrase, "You have great taste!" (except as a joke) try the phrase, "I like that too!" instead.