Assumptions about level of knowledge


What is the best way to respond to a co-worker who makes a statement either during a meeting or general work conversation stating that a topic is probably “over your head”, “too technical” or “too detailed” for you to understand?

I have had this happen to me and other co-workers have expressed their frustration when these types of statements are said to them, especially when a topic isn’t necessarily “over their head”, etc.




DearĀ Irritated:

If you and others find a statement to be offensive, why don’t you say something about it to the person making the statement? Until you do, that coworker will continue to say it. You don’t have to start a feud over it, just state your feelings in a courteous way. You can even smile in a way that says, “I’m not wanting a fight, I just want you to stop.”

Example: Jan says: “This will probably be over your head but let me mention it anyway.”

You or someone else says, “Jan! It sounds really demeaning when you say something like that! Don’t say things like that when we’re discussing work.” Jan says, “I can’t explain it, because it’s too technical for you to understand, just take my word for it.”

You or a coworker replies: “You may not realize how insulting it is when you say something like that, but it is. Don’t do that.”

If you want to soft sell it a little more, you could say, with a smile and an expression of amused disbelief, “I can’t believe you said that! Don’t tell me what I won’t understand!”

Don’t hint around about it, but also don’t try to get back at her or try to “one up” her. Instead just be clear that you don’t like that kind of remark and it isn’t necessary or appropriate.

If she protests that she didn’t mean it to be insulting, just keep to the point, it IS insulting. If she continues after you have said that, write a note to your supervisor and manager and ask them to help you get her to stop that habit.

The reason I am so adamant about the subject is that I am in work places all the time where someone tells me about a coworker who has repeatedly done or said something irritating over many years. I ask, “What direct, effective thing have you done about it?” The answer nearly always is that nothing specific has been done, but they have grumbled unofficially about it to managers. That doesn’t count! If the coworker means to be offensive, your direct remarks may stop her. If she doesn’t mean to be offensive, your direct remarks will allow her to change a bad habit. Reward her efforts to improve with a smile now and then or a friendly hello.

While all of this is happening, put your focus on work, so you and others don’t sit and wait for the coworker to do or so say something irritating again. It’s too easy to become obsessed with a problem that way.

Best wishes to you and the group. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.