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How to Deal With a Condescending Co-Worker

At some point in all of our careers, especially in a city as diverse and eclectic as New York City, we will confront someone in the workplace who insists on making our lives miserable. For whatever reason, this person torments you with non-stop criticism, passive aggressive behavior, and muted anger. We think, “what in the world did I do to deserve this?” Every project together is a personal competition, and every assignment a zero-sum game. It is exhausting, frustrating, and burdensome. Unfortunately, aside from total avoidance of this certain individual, there is little you can do without taking considerable professional risk by allowing your baser instincts to take over. Here are three tips on how to deal with a condescending co-worker.

How to Deal With a Condescending Co-Worker

Resist the temptation to engage
This is probably the most difficult tip to try to follow. No matter how angry you feel inside, you must resist the temptation to engage this person. Nothing good will come out of a direct confrontation. In fact, you may fall prey to exactly what this person wants from you, and that is to show the worst of your personality for the rest of the office to see. Do not fall for this trap.

Empathize and understand
Take some time to think about why this person appears to be targeting you. Subtly ask other colleagues if their experience is the same with this person or if his behavior with you is unique. If it’s the latter, consider what would be motivating her. Are you both at the same level and vying for identical promotions? Did you join forces through a forced situation like a merger or buyout? Did you replace a departed or favored colleague who may have been laid off? All of these factors could contribute to the negative behavior.

Be quiet and exceedingly kind
If you have to interact with this person directly on a regular basis, limit your speech to the bare minimum. This will also help you meet tip number one and prevent you from potentially saying something that you will later regret. When at all possible, show this person kindness at every opportunity. Rules are just different in the workplace and your best face must show through no matter what. Offer to help, share your resources, collaborate together to solve problems. You are betting here that this person will eventually see that you are impervious to his awful attitude and will tire of his act. Should these tactics fail, consider switching teams or asking your boss to be assigned to separate projects.

Debra Wheatman is a certified writer and career coach who has guided the professional development of thousands of clients globally. She is reachable at

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