Dealing with condescending colleagues?

7 months ago from , Product Designer

You read all of these articles about how design is getting a seat at the table, how companies use UX Research for true customer centric design, how designers collaborate closely with engineers in awesome design systems, but you continue to feel stuck in teams that keep acting condescendingly towards you and your work, you feel like you're asked to just pretty things up or you feel like an imposter because you can't talk to users.

I'm researching about this to help newcomer designers deal with this and would love to read more stories.

Have you or are you experiencing this right now? How did you overcome it?


  • Barry WhiteBarry White, 7 months ago

    If a colleague is being purposefully condescending, then report it to your manager. They need pulled up. That kind of behaviour is toxic in any workplace.

    If a colleague is being unknowingly condescending, as they don't "get it", they need to see the value the work you provide. I've definitely been in this position when I was a new designer, but mostly it was my fault. The work I was doing was re-enforcing the idea that I was there to "make it pretty". Mocking up what a stakeholder wanted, passing it on to the dev team, repeat.

    I broke out of this situation when I realised what my job actually was. The team had a problem, I created a rough prototype of a solution (which wasn't part of our regular process – I actually did this outside work as I had become so frustrated), and presented to the team, gathering their feedback. The team saw the direction we needed to move and it helped unblock us. We moved forward together.

    For me, it's all about demonstrating process and problem-solving techniques, which include the broader team. It came from actions I took – which can be a bit daunting if you're a new designer, especially if you're a bit shy.

    2 points
  • Myriam C.Myriam C., 7 months ago

    Hello, I actually have two distinct experiences with this issue. The difference is in the people and their toxicity, I believe. (I should specify that I will here share agency experiences)

    In my previous job, some of my superiors were condescending about my UX/UI job. Most of them didn't understand what it was (when I left, they posted an offer for an UX designer with description like "make UI, create print flyer"…) so I tried to educate them, to share my passion but they didn't want to hear me out. They made fun of me and were always saying I was doing color like if I was a child. When I tried to explain to one of my superior that I needed to be there while meeting clients, and tried to explain that I needed to encounter users, he refused. Because for him, it was like elevating myself as the same level as him. Because it would make me as important as him. Even though I tried to explain to him that we were a team with different expertises, that hierarchy was a nonsense, he would not listen to me. This agency made me sick - literally. So I quit my job.

    At my current job, I had the same problems in the beginning. Commercials were selling UX but defined it as UI to clients. I made 40 pages studies on senior profiles but nobody would listen to it. Nobody understand why. They look condescending in this regard. I felt like an imposter because once again, I wasn't doing any UX. So I made intern meetings, explained my job, what we could do. And they were listening. Right now I'm working hard to be able to do what I want to do : real UX. Meeting clients, users, making analysis, this kind of things. It's kind of hard because I have to educate everyone but everyone is open. It's ok if it takes time, it's worth it.

    I recently read an article and it summed up the issue like this : if your company is not doing UX, so quit it and go make some elsewhere. That's true. But I also think you can, if you're brave enough, make the change in your company and bring UX there. If people want to listen to you. :)

    0 points
  • Ryan Martin, 7 months ago

    Would totally agree this is likely a communication issue before a colleague personality issue. It's important to look at yourself and your behaviours (as they're much easier to adapt and fix) before looking to other people.

    I've struggled with this in many companies for many different reasons. Communication, empathy and adaptability are key. I now spend much less time designing and more time facilitating design.

    1. Understanding the needs and what success means to other people, helps you communicate your work in a way that's meaningful to them. Making time to talk about their work is just as important as making time to talk about your work.

    2. Allowing others to critique your work and contribute to your work before it's 'done' makes them feel a part of it, and it provides incredibly valuable feedback, making sure you're solving the right problems in the right way. Set up time to whiteboard, to sketch, to have presentation and critiques before the work is done.

    3. Working on the storytelling piece of your work. Why is this the right problem to solve? What does it mean for business/technology/ users. Why is your solution the right solution? Do you have data? Is there a v1 of your solution vs the whole vision.

    4. Force yourself to do user-testing, even if it's not perfect. You likely have a big enough network in the company and around you that you can at least do low-fi testing. Add this data to every story you tell.

    5. Find collaborators. There will be people in your company that are interested in your work and your POV and building a small team of advocates will help grow advocacy over time. Doing it all yourself is a very heavy burden.

    0 points
  • Andrew C, 7 months ago

    I work primarily in tech companies. Most troublesome interpersonal issues I’ve seen were based on poor communication. These were overcome by integrating teams together and breaking down “ownership” silos. Work together and be candid.

    The other disfunction was personality driven. This usually ends in termination. There are a few flavours of this: the main one being when someone simply doesn’t value others input in the process or sees it as a burdensome obstacle to realizing their own vision (and the “vision” almost always poorly defined).

    On the opposite end of the spectrum there is the victim that is always being excluded. That never seems to get their just rewards from the team. Both personalities aren’t communicating effectively and manifest it aggressively or passively. Both are toxic. The second maybe moreso due to the subtlety of it. Less obvious to fix. Both require a metaphorical boot in the ass. But usually it’s not a great fit. Good balanced minds generally enjoy working together.

    0 points
  • Andy MerskinAndy Merskin, 7 months ago

    I think it's important to understand why someone might be treating you this way first, and more often than not, it's totally their issue. Sometimes, it's your own issue, however.

    Condescending person:

    • Threatened by your smarts, where they are lacking
    • Not familiar with the process or approach you take
    • Have a personality conflict, particularly in ways of taking in / processing information (i.e. difference in Intuitive vs. Sensory thinking, or could be the difference between those who value efficient decision making (Ni-Te / Si-Te) versus those who value a more relaxed view of considering all the options (Fi-Ne / Ni-Fe)).
    • Want the new team member to listen more and soak things up before handing over the keys, per se (building trust).
    • Just doesn't like you.

    New designer:

    • Wrestling with or not conforming to the team's existing processes well enough
    • Not quite as experienced or talented as you might believe, so you might be projecting arrogance or a know-it-all attitude, maybe without knowing it (be honest with yourself and ask whether you are or not!)

    The "ideal" UX process

    It's not a reality everywhere you go. A lot of it depends on the company's culture you're coming into. If your managers / creative directors aren't very conscious of other people, you might just feel ignored, and it's likely you aren't the only one, because they have an M.O. that's with or without you.

    I've worked for a design agency working with dozens of clients, and a particularly accommodating agency where we do basically whatever the client wants process-wise. So if they don't want us involved in direct user research, tough luck. Chances are, your manager is trying their best to keep the client happy, and at times, the designers under them might be left under the bus in that pursuit.

    Nonetheless, having a condescending manager or team member is never fun, and I can't tell you how many times I've experienced that, partly because I have a bit of a strong personality in my workplace--I feel confident in my skills and talents and know I have a lot to offer, but also know I don't always have the best solutions--but when others feel threatened by you or think a totally different way, they won't be so keen on working with you to get to a solution.

    In those situations, I'm left with a few options:

    1. Be strong, hold your own, and assert your ideas. Know your worth, and know your field really well. And do all of this as kindly as you can.
    2. Build self-awareness and try to understand yourself and your team members as well as you can. MBTI, the Enneagram, and The Big Five are all great tools to do this, but they do take some time to grasp. You don't necessarily have to share this info between you and your team members, but you can start to pick up on how people are thinking and what their motivations are at work, and you can make your own decisions around these insights.
    3. Change teams (if that's an option), or find a new gig. There are plenty of places to go and finding the right fit is worth your time.

    Good luck out there!

    0 points