condescending coworker

How to Deal With A Condescending Internal Customer

Most of us have ‘internal customers’ – people in our own company who rely on us to provide them with some level of service or support.  Unfortunately, just as there are difficult external customers, there are also difficult internal customers. One of the common situations we see are internal customers who appear to not respect the roles of their internal service providers. They come across as condescending, dismissive, arrogant and sometimes plain rude. It is a recipe for a poisonous workplace atmosphere. What do you do?

For starters, it is important to remember that these internal customers are often absolutely oblivious of how they are coming across, and of the impact their actions are having. They are so consumed with their own jobs and their own challenges that they just don’t stop to think about the people around them. Sometimes their demeanor can be ‘fixed’ with just a simple nudge. Here are a couple of things you can try:

1. Change your assumptions and educate your internal customer

Rather than assuming that “Susan doesn’t respect what I do,” try taking the more productive assumption that “Susan doesn’t understand what I do.” Make it a point to gently and subtly educate internal customers on your role.

The best way to do this is by framing things in terms of their best interests. So, for example, instead of saying:

“Hey buddy, I can’t just snap my fingers and make it happen you know!”

Try something like:

“Susan, in order to get this done for you properly, I will need to do x, y & z (that’s the educating part). Realistically this will take about three days, unless you can think of a way to expedite things…”

Over time, Your internal customer will gain a little more appreciation of your skills and your role in the company.

2. Address it directly with your internal customer

If the education process doesn’t work, the next step is to confront your internal customer. Don’t scold them or be confrontational. Take a personal approach. You might say, for example:

“Fred, have I done something to offend you? Clearly there’s something you’re not happy about…”

They now have two choices on how to respond. The first (and most likely) response is to tell you that they bear you no ill will at all. It creates a very brief, awkward moment, but they will now think twice about how they treat you in future.

Their second option is that they confirm you actually have done something to offend them. That’s not a lot of fun either, but you at least have an opportunity to fix things.

These strategies won’t always work, of course. Sometimes your condescending coworkers are exactly the workplace jerks they appear to be. But they are worth a try. One thing is for certain – doing nothing at all is still the worst of all options.

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