Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.” –- Sara Blakey
Most of us come across difficult people at some point in our lives who are intimidating and make us feel on edge, uneasy or unsure of ourselves. The people who intimidate you could be in the position of power or influence, they could be someone in your personal or professional relationship, or could be a coworker or a higher up who is loud, insensitive, or aggressive. People who actively intimidate others in workplace or relationships are no different from the bullies you come across in your school life and has a similar affect as it would when you were a child. As adults, we also likely to get intimidated by someone’s aggressive behaviour, bullying attitude or by their power display, use of their position or wealth.
Some people may not be overly aggressive, but can be hard to interact, at times unapproachable, might talk over you, or they undermine your decisions and make you feel small or unimportant. It can be quite daunting to interact or deal with people who try to manage or lead through intimidation. Sometimes their intimidating behaviour is mistaken for strength, but they often tend to undermine and disregard the value added by others to the work or relationships they are in.
However, intimidation is not always caused by others, sometimes we feel intimidated because we put certain people on a social pedestal. And in such situations, intimidation often is an evaluation of the self in comparison to others, as others have more experience, success or power. Hiding or avoiding encounters with people who you feel intimidated never actually help you overcome your fear, unease or discomfort. Also, not being able to show your assertiveness or confidence shows your lack of competence. If you are unaware of how to deal with intimidation, you cannot live up to your full potential or be your best self, be it in your personal or professional relationships.
Why are we intimidated by some and not others?
Some people deliberately set out to intimidate others in order to get their way and subject others to bullying, threats, humiliation and through victimising or by inducing fear. Then there are those who don’t deliberately intimidate us, but it comes from our perception of them — when we don’t perceive them on a common ground. It is important to understand the difference in order to deal with it. It is also a matter of comparison at times as we see them as better in some aspects and when they are blunt in expressing their opinions might make you feel insecure and intimidating. Sometimes, people whom we don’t see them as being like us or people we don’t know that well tend to intimidate us. An introvert may fond a loud and aggressive person intimidating.
It is important to draw the distinction between somebody intimidating you and you feeling intimidated. Because intimidation most of the times is also due to your admiration of someone because they might have traits deemed desirable by you or by society in general. You may feel someone intimidating if the person’s reputation precedes him or her. Like for instance, we often get caught up in the hype surrounding a person – their affluence or celebrity status and so on. As a result, we automatically put ourselves on the bottom end of the seesaw that leads to feelings of inadequacy in that person’s presence because of your perceived lack of these desirable traits in yourself.
This can be true even when you come across intimidating to others. Some people might find you intimidating when you are less tolerant towards those who are close-minded, judgmental or ignorant. Sometimes your willingness to go against the grain or open-mindedness or your ability to speak truth always can put other people out of their comfort zone. Being strong-willed and opinionated or doing things that doesn’t match the norm also makes others who are not like you feel insecure and you might across as intimidating to them.
Intimidation vs productivity
Some people resort to managing through fear or intimidation to get things done, exert control or to stimulate people’s performance, but it certainly cannot be a motivating strategy in long-term. Such behaviour leads to decreased productivity, creativity and quashes opportunities for personal/professional growth. Presence of such people in certain workplace or business environments leads to loss of confidence of employees and reduces their engagement in doing productive work. Workplace intimidation can further lead to poor self-esteem, stress, anxiety and nervousness. Being subjected to deliberate intimidation can shake your confidence and trigger self-doubt.
It is not easy to quash your fears and adopt the most appropriate behaviour when you have to interact with intimidating people. To show their dominance, they make your conversations either excessively long to wear you down or short to cut you off where you cannot make them know your point of view. Intimidators respond in a non-negotiating, short and blunt manner and use their intimidating behaviour as a defensive mechanism to avoid challenges thereby creating tension and toxic work culture. Most intimidators struggle with their insecurities and fears which may manifest as aggressiveness or insensitivity.
How to deal with intimidation
Whether the intimidation is internal that has to do with your thought process or external —having to do with the actions or behaviour of others, you can learn to overcome it. Research shows that people who develop key mental attributes like a desire to learn and who constantly strive to improve or those with mental toughness took more personal responsibility to overcome intimidation.This is because when you learn to cope with personal limitations and work on overcoming weaknesses, you can depend on your strengths which in turn boosts your self-confidence. Here are some questions to ask yourself to deal with intimidating behaviour, situations or people.
Am I being assertive enough?
You can’t be confident and intimidated at the same time. Being assertive improves your confidence. Tap into your inner assertiveness to get into the right headspace for the interaction. Keying into the other person’s communication style can also be helpful in meeting them where they are and in having a productive conversation. Try to see things from their perspective so that you don’t give into stories you have been telling yourself about those who intimidate you. Because sometimes, people appear intimidating due to the assumptions and thoughts we hold about them.
When we choose to believe that someone is difficult to deal with, or better than us or unmanageable, we experience negative emotions and cannot express ourselves freely. Use ‘I’ statements instead of starting sentences with ‘you.’ For instance, ‘I feel’, ‘I need’ ‘I appreciate the feedback, but I don’t agree’ ‘I understand your position, but I can get back in that.’ When you are truly assertive, you focus only on what you have to say without making the other person wrong. Say ‘no’ to firmly decline unwanted requests and say ‘yes’ to opportunities even if you have to go outside of your comfort zone.
Am I taking it personally?
When we come across an angry and unhappy person, many of us take this behaviour personally and tend to respond with anger or sometimes get defensive and fall into the trap of trying to prove ourselves to people who intimidate us. This is especially true if a person is threatening your job or intimidating in front of your coworkers. Your anxiety can lead to exhaustion even when increased effort does not alter their intimidating behaviour. You believe that your work is not up to the mark and you need to do more. However sometimes your work is just as good, if not better than the others.
Observing whether he or she is treating everyone or passing down the same behaviour can help you recognise that the person’s behaviour has nothing to do with any deficiency in you or your work. Keep in mind that you are not the problem and that such behaviour of theirs is due to their own fears or insecurities or wanting to control others and isn’t always about your work performance.
How Am I responding to other’s intimidation ?
Respond to your emotions and feelings instead of preventing them. Guilt and self-accusation will only increase the consequences. Others may intend to intimidate you but responding to it is all about you. Asking yourself, why am I so intimidated? Will only move you towards insecurity, whereas asking yourself, How can I overcome? Will move you towards courage to overcome their intimidation. Identify your values that reflect who you aspire to become and keep exposing yourself to intimidating people or situations.
Facing your fears strengthens your courage and confidence. If you are being intimidated by the position they hold, jobs they are in or things they possess , remind yourself that people aren’t things. Separate them from the person and you will see that there really isn’t anything to be intimidated about. People often get intimidating for a reason and their negative behaviours are often projection of inner misery and chaos. Looking beyond their behaviour to the underlying reasons offers you more tolerance to deal with it.
Am I giving into their image?
Many people with intimidating behaviour have learned to use this to keep others at bay. Some use it as defence mechanism to avoid rejection or to control a specific situation. They build a false image around themselves by being frosty and seeming hard. This is very rarely who they really are. You do not have to accept them at face value as they want you. Try to see beneath the exterior image they are trying to project. When you stop seeing the intimidating person in the same image, it becomes easier to put their behaviour in perspective. It is important to see that even people who intimidate have a vulnerable side to them like everyone. Seeing them in a realistic light and not buying into the image they have created is the key to deal with their intimidation.
Am I comparing myself to others?
Intimidation sometimes is just the feeling that somebody is able to outdo us. Handling intimidating people mostly lies in stopping that comparison. It is important to remind yourself that each one is different and no two people can have the exact same skills, background or goals. You are different from the other person and that does not make him or her better than you. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. While you may not know those of the intimidator. Review your positive attributes and achievements and remind yourself that the person who intimidated you might not be showing their real self. If you get to know the person better, your perception of how intimidating he or she may change. Seeing yourself to be mentally tough can prepare you for an upcoming interaction with someone who intimidated you.
Am I focusing on others ?
Focusing too much on yourself can make you miss important cues that could help you communicate more effectively. Focus solely on the other person. For instance, do they seem stressed? Are they distracted? When you focus on them, you can see their own worries, insecurities and you will find an imperfect person, not a super being just like everyone else. Focusing on others, you tune into exactly why they are uncomfortable.
Look at the other person as someone to figure out and understand rather than someone to challenge. Ask questions such as “and how is that going to work?”.. “Why? What? Who? When?mix your statements with frequent validation of what they are saying so they know you are valuing what they say. When you approach them with curiosity it takes them by surprise and they often begin to unravel when they are asked to explain themselves in more detail. Never be confrontational or belittling, instead respond to those cues with compassion and genuineness.
What are my triggers ?
To tackle intimidation, you need to understand what triggers intimidation in you. Take a look at the relationship you have with this person and how you interact. Think your default response. Consider if you are responding with any kind of prejudice. Ask yourself, why you are intimidated. What is it about this person that induces fear?is it because of this person’s intimidation? Is it their approach, tone, overall demeanour, title/position, education, viewpoint or any other? Do you see any pattern in the style of people who intimidate you? Are there any insecurities that might be causing this intimidation? Is there any underlying fear or limiting belief that is causing this?
How am I able to express myself ?
Self-expression is equally important as to being assertive. However, sometimes we have hard time in expressing ourselves freely especially in the presence of someone in place of authority or with the one you perceive as more powerful or even better than you. Not able to express yourself freely overtime lowers your self-esteem and might fear being challenged, feel ignored or disregarded.
Gaining clarity of what you think, feel and value. Feel empathetic and compassion towards them even though their intimidation has nothing to do with you. This doesn’t mean putting up with bad, abusive or unacceptable behaviour. You are free to express what you think and feel because no matter who you are, your value is equal to the person with whom you are interacting. When you do, you can express yourself with greater sense of control and appreciation.
Space for self-reflection
How often do you get intimidated by people?
What is the reason behind your intimidation – Is it because this person comes from a position of power or influence or is it coming from your own perception?
Why do you find someone intimidating –Is the person blunt? Does he/she uses intimidating phrases or language?
Is he or she is aggressive and unpredictable? Do they leave you puzzled and not knowing what to say? Or is it because of he or she is insensitive? Or Is the situation intimidating because of your interpretation of it?
How do you deal with aggressive or intimidating behaviours of people in your personal or professional relationships ?
Like learning any skill, being assertive with difficult people takes practice. The more you focus on your strengths, more confident you will become in overcoming intimidating situations and behaviours. Dealing with intimidating behaviour requires you to stay strong, calm and focused. While you can adopt techniques to accept the limiting nature of their toxic mindset, you don’t have to bend to it. Take small steps to break the patterns of feelings of intimidation. When you act from your most honest and sincere self, you can have greater sense of control so not to get intimidated.