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  • Writer's pictureAva Marie LaMonica

3 Subtle Ways to Tell If Someone Is Being Condescending and 3 Ways to React

Photo from

There are many different forms of aggression. There’s passive-aggression, hostile aggression, violent aggression…but the type of aggression I loathe the most is condescension.

A condescending individual is one who, like the photo above states, talks down to people.

However, it’s not always as simple as that.

Many condescending individuals will behave in such subtle ways that it can easily be overlooked or even masked as kindness.

Here are three subtle ways to tell if someone is being condescending.


1) Tone of Voice

One of the most obvious signs that someone is being condescending to you is through their tone of voice.

Seems easy to notice, huh?

Well, in reality, this can often go overlooked because their tone can be masked with backhanded compliments and a cheerful demeanor.

A condescending person may speak to you slower than everyone else, almost as if they were an older sibling or parental figure.

For example: Let’s pretend that you’re having difficulty setting up an app on your phone and someone is assisting you. Rather than patiently helping, they slowly read aloud the directions to you as if you were a first-grade student being taught how to spell. This is condescension at its finest.


2) Nicknames

Another classic thing condescending people do is call you by a nickname.

Some examples include:


Now, this is also easy to overlook because many of us genuinely call each other these names.

A condescending person, however, will call you these nicknames in a belittling demeanor.

Even if the person doesn’t come across as downright patronizing in their demeanor, another indicator is that the person may not know you well enough to be calling you these nicknames. They think of themselves as higher on the totem pole and these nicknames insinuate that you’re inferior.


3) Insincere or Backhanded Compliments

This is by far one of the easiest things to overlook in condescending individuals. It’s one of those things commonly faced by people who are more introverted, shy, or even just super friendly.

Have you ever said or done something awkward or embarrassing and a person responds something like:

“Aw, you’re so cute!”


“Aw, I love you!”

But instead of the “compliment” making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, you can’t help but feel slightly agitated and you don’t know why, even if you may laugh or smile on the outside.

Well, it’s because you’ve just been belittled and patronized.

Once again, the person with a superiority complex is looking down on you and making a subtle mockery of whatever you said or did which is the farthest thing from a compliment.


How to React to a Condescending Person

Condescending people so often get away with their demeaning behavior because, as I’ve mentioned, it often goes overlooked until it gets really out of hand.

Here are three ways to react to a condescending person.


1) Sarcasm or Humor

If someone is talking down to you, sometimes the best way to react is with sarcasm or humor.

Now it’s important to have a casual and jokingly tone in this approach and to not be hostile or aggressive. Otherwise, you can come across as overly defensive which will only make you more inferior in the eyes of the condescending person.

Here are some examples of things you can say:

“I must be really stupid, I don’t know how I made it past Kindergarten.”
“I know I’m so cute, right?”
“Thanks, Mom/Dad/Teacher.” (This one might make things heated, so use it wisely)

Often this approach will catch the person off guard and if they didn’t mean to be condescending, they will usually back off and feel sorry for the way they talked to you. If the condescension was intentional, they’ll at least know you’re not going to let them walk all over you.


2) Confidence

Confidence goes a long way.

People with a superiority complex love to prey on a person who they believe has a lack of confidence or someone who doesn’t come across as self-assured.

Even though condescending individuals are deeply insecure on the inside, putting others down is a way for them to look intellectually superior.

If a person is being condescending, sometimes it’s better to just ignore them and let their behavior roll off your back.

If a person calls you a belittling nickname, use that nickname right back to them in conversation.

While it can certainly take time to build up confidence, trying your hardest to display confidence to others will definitely help the process.


3) Speaking Up and Setting Boundaries

If a person is continuously condescending, eventually you will have to speak up and set boundaries.

This can be done in a civil, but direct and assertive way:

“I noticed that you have a tendency to patronize and belittle me. It makes me feel very disrespected and I really don’t appreciate this.”

If the person apologizes and changes their behavior, great!

If they become defensive or nothing changes, you need to set boundaries:

“If you continue to speak to me in this way, I can no longer be associated with you.”

If a person isn’t willing to change their behavior and respect your boundaries, well, then who needs them anyway?

So those were three subtle ways to tell if someone is being condescending and three ways to react to a condescending person.

It’s ideally important to gauge the situation and see if the condescending individual is being intentional and from then on, you can see which approach is the best fit.


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