I have worked with and for quite a few problematic characters throughout my long career. Some are still friends and confidants, and a few continue to be valued as mentors.
Many of these irascible managers or co-workers lack social grace and a sense of control, so they cannot communicate well under stress. They also appear to forget that a timely apology can be a fallback position.
You see them coming from a mile, so the choice becomes whether you rise to and meet the verbal challenge or obfuscate. But, since nobody wins in these confrontations, you seldom try to deal with it.
They are unaware of how their behavior impacts others because they need to elevate themselves above others in a group situation. They do not hesitate to exploit their leadership role by insulting others because they are often insecure and quick to attack to assert their leadership.
So they seek to maintain their position in the hierarchy through criticism, humiliation, and camouflaged insults, in a kind of unconscious narcissistic way.
The second group of tough characters are those with narrow interests and vapid sympathies. These folks say and do the same cruel things regularly as if on cue. I worked for one manager who lobbed the same petty insults at every group meeting but never in one-to-one meetings.
The worse part is that you feel bad for the manager. And deliberately avoid connecting with the “Oh No, Not Again” apologetic looks directed your way by the other team members. You think, “well, somebody has got to pull up the weeds.” Feeling all the while like the embarrassed parent of a preschooler misbehaving in public!
There is a stunning lack of creativity when someone overuses the same petty insult. If you must be regularly petty, try to be creative and offer variety. Unable to rise to the occasion, then stop it, the exercise of watching a manager or colleague try to diminish a coworker publicly is tiresome and embarrassing for everybody!