Mark’s Blog

#37: The Patronizer: a devil in disguise.

The Patronizer is condescending.

How’s your little job going?

It was a Saturday morning and as usual I was enjoying a leisurely breakfast at a local café. At the next table was a fairly large group of people. They hadn’t seen each other for a while and they were catching up on the latest with the usual topics of children, holidays and work – and a little politics thrown in for good measure.

Anyway, I was minding my own business – as much as I ever am – when I heard a man at the next table say to one of the women: “And how’s your little job going? It sounds real hard working from home.”

Now if that doesn’t sound bad, please go back and say what he said again with a very  condescending voice. And make it sound like a real put-down because that’s how it was delivered. When all said and done, he may as well said: “How’s your pretend job going? You muck around at home while people like me have a real job.”

The man put her down – he treated her and her work as a  joke. In short, he was patronizing.

They act superior

The Patronizer talks down to you and treats you like you’re inferior  – in intellect, lifestyle, occupation, the company they keep or whatever it happens to be at the time. They tend to treat you – and what you do and what you’ve done – as unimportant. And sometimes they even treat you as stupid. In short, they put us down.

But here’s the twist. Sometimes they way they put you down is subtle because they hide their feelings of superiority by making it look like they’re being helpful and approving.

There are three sub-types

There are three main sub-types of The Patronizer. They are:

  1. The Unthinking Patronizer.
  2. The Patronizer who means well; and
  3. The Deliberate Patronizer;

A brief overview of each follows. And as you read, please answer this: Which sub-type is the man I wrote about in the opening lines?

1. The Unthinking Patronizer

Just an ordinary dinner party

My wife and I were at a party and got talking with another one of the guests. He’d recently spent the better part of a year driving around Australia on what he called the trip of a lifetime. During the conversation he told us how to make some ‘running repairs’ on his car.

He made the assumption my wife wouldn’t know much about how to make running repairs so he explained things – to her in particular – in a very simple way. He simply talked going from one story to the next.

But he’d made a mistake. My wife had driven trucks for some time in the Kimberly region of north-western Australia. And she was very used to doing all sorts of ‘running repairs’ on all sorts of vehicles.

He was what I call an ‘Unthinking Patronizer’. He used simple language to explain things thinking he was doing my wife a favour. He was patronizing and didn’t even think to find out what my wife – and me for that matter –did and did not know. He simply didn’t think.

A sloppy communicator?

In many ways, he was simply a sloppy communicator. And the reality is many of us have been one of them a few times in our life – unfortunately, it’s easy to not think very much. However, unthinking or not, his behaviour was condescending and, in many regards, insulting.

2. The Patronizer who means well

My father

In the last few years of my father’s life, he was in a wheelchair. He was ‘with it’ as they say but dying from emphysema. One day I took him shopping. It was hard for him – given he was in his 90s and always needing an oxygen tank with him – but he asked me to take him and he really wanted to get out of the house, so off we went.

The shop assistant who served us spoke down to my father – at times almost like he would to a child. He repeated information and often waited to see if we would understand.

He was definitely patronizing but I feel he meant well. I feel he was simply trying to be helpful. He was young – in his late teens I suspect – and probably had little experience serving people in my father’s condition. And possibly, like so many people, equated physical frailty with mental frailty.

No harm done?

The shop assistant was what I call a ‘Deliberate but means well’ Patronizer. This is someone who is patronizing, tends to repeat information to make sure we get it and looks at us (or in the case of my father above, look at their ‘carer’) to see if we’re capable of following – but does it because they are sincerely trying to help out.

But let’s remember this: although this sub-type of Patronizer means well, they’re behaviour is still patronizing and can be extremely upsetting and annoying.

3. The Deliberate Patronizer

You look like a nice person

The argument between Peter and Andrew was nothing special. On the whole, they were well-mannered and let each other have their say.

But all this changed when Peter said: “You look like a nice person. I’ll explain it to you.”

Although this might seem harmless enough – at least at first glance – what Peter basically said was:

“I don’t think you’re too smart – if I thought you were smart I might say so. But at least you’re probably nice. So I’ll help you out and explain it to you – because it doesn’t look like you can work it out by yourself.”

There was no need for Peter to say Andrew looked “like a nice person”. It didn’t add anything of value to the discussion – it was irrelevant and distracting. Worse still, it played down Andrew’s abilities and the quality of his argument.

And when Peter said he’d “explain it”, he was saying he was smarter than Andrew. He was insulting Andrew but he was being subtle – he put Andrew down while appearing friendly and supportive.

And while we’re here, let’s talk about ‘mansplaining’

The term mansplaining was coined in 2008 by Rebecca Solnit. It was made from combining the word man with the word splaining (which is an informal form of the word explaining).

It means to explain something to (or just talk to) a woman in an oversimplified way with the assumption she wouldn’t otherwise be able to grasp what you’re talking about. Mansplaining is patronizing, condescending and arrogant.

So what sub-type is mansplaining? Well, it depends. It depends on the subject matter, who’s doing the mansplaining, the context, the women on the receiving end, and how the mansplaining is done and just how condescending the mansplainer is, etc. But I’m happy to have your ideas.

Let’s have a chat

If you’d like to know how to deal with a Patronizer, please just give us a call. I’ve got plenty of strategies that are realistic, down-to-earth and work.  If you’d like to have a chat, just go to the contact page of my website.

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