5 Communication Traps that Make You Sound Condescending

Rachel Beohm
4 min readApr 20, 2022

…and how to avoid them.

“Some of my coworkers are so clueless,” a coaching client complained recently. “I get accused of being condescending when I explain things. How do I give them the info they need without sounding obnoxious? I’m not trying to be a jerk.”

If you have (or perhaps more importantly, if you think you have) more authority, experience, or knowledge than another person, it’s easy to slip into patronizing communication. Some people seem to enjoy belittling others, but for most of us, it happens unintentionally. Snarky voice patterns, poor breathing, assumptions, certain facial expressions, and your personal perspective can trip you up and send a condescending message. These behaviors, even when done inadvertently, damage rapport and raise barriers to understanding, tolerance, and cooperation. I mean, who likes to be talked down to? Ugh.

Here are some tips — verbal, nonverbal, and perceptional — to help you eradicate this off-putting trait from your conversations.

1. Watch your voice tone.

When you’re giving information or directives, it’s appropriate to use the Authoritative Voice Pattern: a flat voice that curls down at the ends of statements. However, many people, especially if they’re seeking validation, will soften their authoritative statements nonverbally by curling up at the very end and adding a question like “Okay?” or “Right?” Not only does that reduce your credibility, but if there is any edge to your voice, it comes across as snarky or demeaning.

Learn to make statements with comfortable confidence. If and when you are seeking someone else’s input or checking for understanding, that’s a good time to use the Approachable Voice Pattern (voice curls up at the end of statements or questions). But tacking it on to the end of an authoritative statement does nothing to soften your words. At best, it sounds insecure; more often than not, it sounds patronizing.

2. Breathe!

That edge to your voice comes from poor breathing. If you’re stressed or tense, that changes your breathing pattern and will affect your tone of voice. Breathe deeply to keep any haughty tones out of your voice.

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Rachel Beohm

Exploring relationship skills, communication (especially nonverbal), and how to live a full life. Promoter of kindness, gratitude, and joy.