February 13, 2020

6 Ways to deal with Difficult (Read: Arrogant, Condescending) People.

I’m a support person at a Fortune 100 corporation.

Every now and then, I’ll come across that one man or that one woman who treats me as a third-class citizen, at events in which I facilitate.

They say hello to everyone they see, shaking hands and offering warm greetings as they make their way through the room. But as they pass by me—nothing. They know me. So, I’m not worthy of their handshake or their greeting, or even a fleeting glance.

This could be soul-sucking. If I let it.

Condescending people portray themselves as superior. They often belittle other people whom they see as inferior to themselves. They tend to talk down to these people or ignore them altogether in public settings.

It’s not just corporate executives or people of authority belittling support personnel. I recently watched a Masterclass taught by humorist David Sedaris. He told the story of his daily routine:

He writes in the mornings. Then, he spends his afternoons walking around the small English village where he lives, picking up trash along the road. The people who don’t know him treat him like he’s on mandatory community service. They’ll turn their back on him when he says hello. Or, they’ll bring their children in closer to them as he walks by—or even rudely tell him he missed some garbage down the road. They have no idea that he is a famous author, merely taking in fresh air and tidying up his community.

He won’t correct them or tell them who he is. As one who observes the world for a living, Mr. Sedaris describes it as “wearing special glasses” to see what people are really like. Because they aren’t counting him as another human being like they are. They identify him as someone who is beneath them. In truth, they’re exposing themselves in a way they wouldn’t if they thought he was equal to them.

“The minute you think you have the right to belittle others because you think you’re better than them is the same minute you’ve proven you’re worse.” ~ Joanne Crisner Alcayaga, Author

Why do some people have the attitude that they’re better than others?

Those who instinctively condescend may be modeling their parents or the methods of past managers. Or, perhaps they follow a “kick the cat” approach in life, generally. Such a sad life, indeed, for them and the people in their circle.

Studies show links between socioeconomic status and diminished neural empathetic responses. These people can be much less attuned to others in general. Most interesting to me is the suggestion that higher status people perceive themselves to be more empathetic, or at least present themselves as such. But, in fact, they may experience weaker empathetic responses to other’s pain. This study cites: “This would also be consistent with research demonstrating that the better than average effect is stronger among those higher in SES (socioeconomic status), as are levels of narcissism.” Makes sense.

I know, from personal experience, that these studies do not relate to all people of higher socioeconomic status. I work directly and indirectly with people who are wealthy and are senior level executives who show empathy, compassion, and have zero attitude of arrogance.

We cannot let people steal our joy.

Here are some ideas to to think about if you come in contact with condescending people:

  1. Don’t take it personally. Protect your own spirit. They are projecting their own reality, not yours.
  2. Realize no one person or group has the power to limit who you are or what you can do, even a person or groups of authority.
  3. Do not ever feel shame for who you are, what you’ve done, or your goals in life.
  4. Let no one make you feel less of a person. You are responsible for your own thoughts, choices, emotions, and actions.
  5. People’s perspectives and bad behaviors are based on their own experiences. We can’t change the bad behaviors of others, but we can minimize the impact on our own confidence.
  6. Have empathy for the high and mighty as their upbringing failed them in how to treat people.

Should we confront the arrogant ones?

“Arrogance is the camouflage of insecurity.” ~ Tim Fargo

If you work with the person directly, sometimes it can help to diplomatically bring their arrogance to their attention. Telling them you don’t appreciate their attitude as it relates to something specific can sometimes help open their eyes. It’s okay to stand up for yourself, especially if working with this person regularly. If you don’t work with the person directly, best to ignore and let it go.

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