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Do people clear a path in front of you when you’re walking down the street, and you’re not sure why?
Or maybe your colleagues avoid eye contact with you and scurry elsewhere when you’re near?
These are usually signs that you’re giving off intimidating energy that might be causing other people discomfort.
If you want to know how to be less intimidating, we have some tips below.
1. Determine why people find you intimidating.
How do you know that people find you intimidating? Have they told you as much? Or are you going solely by how they behave in your presence? Do they try to avoid you, or do they get passive-aggressive and defensive around you?
Ask yourself why you feel that the people around you might find you intimidating. Take stock of both what they say to you and their body language when they interact with you.
If someone challenges you often about certain turns of phrase, then they might feel intimidated by your intellect. For example, someone who hasn’t had much education might feel threatened by someone who’s well educated (and, by extension, well-spoken). As a result, they might ask why the other person puts on airs or uses “big words.” They go on the offensive and try to make the other behave in a way that’s more comfortable to them – basically trying to level the playing field.
In terms of body language, are you quite tall or have a large build? If people are either slouching or trying to make themselves look larger in your presence, then your mere form might be scary to them.
All of these things can be worked with if you’d like to make yourself more approachable and less intimidating in general.
2. Be honest about how you feel about seeming intimidating to others.
If someone tells you that they find you intimidating, what’s your immediate reaction? Do you feel a swell of pride and power at the thought that you might scare others? Or do you feel bad about potentially making others feel uncomfortable or scared in your presence?
If it’s the former, ask yourself where this sense of pride in your apparent ferocity is coming from. Did you feel disempowered when you were younger, and now you like the idea that the shoe is on the other foot? Or perhaps you put a great deal of effort into your education, and you’re chuffed to know that your knowledge and erudition are making themselves known?
In contrast, let’s say you have the second response – you feel awful about making others feel small or nervous. Have you had negative experiences being in that position, and you wouldn’t want to cause others to feel that way in turn? How do you think you got to a place where you seem to be having that effect?
There are many facets to making others nervous, and we’ll touch upon intentional vs. unintentional intimidation below.
There are ways of changing the way you speak to suit the audience you’re working with, so you’re not giving off a “better than all of you” vibe.
Similarly, if you’ve grown to be 6’7″ and those around you are nervous about your size and height, you can counteract this by sitting down when interacting with them.
In simplest terms, the way you deal with being intimidating depends entirely on what it is about you that makes others nervous.
3. Ask yourself whether you’re intentionally trying to intimidate people.
Try to determine whether your intimidating aspects and behaviors are innocent or intentional.
For example, someone who doesn’t read much might be intimidated by a voracious reader because of their vocabulary. Similarly, someone who isn’t physically strong might feel threatened by a muscular athlete who has a strong physical presence.
These are unintentional forms of intimidation, in which simply being yourself can make other people feel awkward or small.
In contrast, there’s a type of conscious intimidation that springs from someone wanting to assert dominance. This behavior usually comes from feeling socially awkward in the past or previous trauma. Since they don’t like being perceived as awkward or incompetent, they’ll find a niche in which they can excel and use that excellence as a form of superiority over others.
For example, a person who isn’t great at sports might focus on academia. They might pour a great deal of time and money into a Master’s or Ph.D. degree and become known as an expert in their field.
They’ll then take opportunities to put down others by citing things they’ve learned. If sports guys bullied them, they might try to make them feel stupid. If you’ve seen the film “Good Will Hunting,” the bar scene is an ideal example of this.
Be honest with yourself about the interactions you have with other people.
Do you dress, behave, and speak a certain way to make yourself seem better, stronger, more attractive, or smarter than others? Or to make them fully aware of how much better you are than them?
If so, ask yourself why you’re doing this and what benefit you feel will come of that over time. Has this done wonders for building friendships? Are you liked and respected at work?
The answer to whether your actions are intentional or innocent will set the foundation of where to go from here.
4. Determine whether you have intimidating walls up as a defense mechanism.
This builds upon the previous points but delves into the reasons behind unintentional intimidation. Or rather, intimidating aspects that may not be intentional now but were at a different point in time and are now challenging to let go of.
Many people who have grown up in harsh circumstances often put up a facade of ferocity and intimidation as a means of preemptive self-defense. They might give off the kind of energy that warns people to stay away from them – almost like a tangible cloud of “KEEP AWAY” hovering around them.
These people might also dress the part as an added layer of protection. Some might lean towards punk-like steel-toed boots, tattoos, spiked clothing, and black leather. Others might prefer a more urban cultural aesthetic. Whichever style they lean towards, the general feeling it gives is that the person inside the costume is dangerous and not to be trifled with.
So what happens when a person wearing said outfit wants to make a new friend? Or establish a romantic connection with a person? It can often be challenging to break free from these stereotypes, especially if they’ve been part of the person’s lifestyle for years.
The problem with external defenses is that they often stay up long after the person escapes the situations that first prompted them. These walls need to be lowered slowly over time and in the company of those who make one feel secure and valued.
5. Adapt yourself to the situation you’re in.
If people find your natural, unintentional tendencies to be intimidating, then you can try taking steps to make them feel more at ease around you.
Examine your body language and how you speak in various circumstances, and then observe how others react. Then try to determine whether you might be able to make them more comfortable with a few minor tweaks here and there.
This doesn’t mean changing who you are fundamentally but instead adapting to the audience in the moment.
One perfect example of this would be changing our body language and vocabulary when talking to children. To avoid seeming big and scary, we might sit or crouch down so we’re at eye level with them – to put us on equal ground.
Similarly, if they ask for an explanation about something, we’ll use words and concepts they can relate to. “Sky blue” instead of “cerulean” as a color descriptor because they’re familiar with it, etc.
The same goes for dealing with different people. If your colleagues find you intimidating because of your height, sit down when you talk with them instead of standing nearby and literally talking down to them.
Are you very well educated? Don’t “dumb down” your vocabulary when speaking with those who may not have a robust vocabulary. Instead, speak clearly, at a measured pace, using vocabulary that an average high school student would understand. This way, you’re still being eloquent but not arrogant.
6. Analyze whether there are cultural differences at play.
Sometimes other people’s discomfort can simply be attributed to cultural differences. What’s considered perfectly normal in one country can be a faux pas in another. Similarly, something that can be taken as friendly, warm behavior in some areas can be intimidating or unnerving elsewhere.
For example, let’s say someone grew up in a boisterous Mediterranean or Latin American family. They’re used to being surrounded by extroverts who touch each other regularly during conversations.
When and if they interact with more reserved, quiet Scandinavians or Brits, the latter might be overwhelmed by the former’s energy. They might pull away when someone gets too close to their personal space or get uncomfortable with being touched or slapped for conversational emphasis.
Tone, volume, phrasing, and body language all need to be considered when interacting with others. If you’ve moved to another country, or work closely with people of a different cultural background to your own, observe them and see how they interact with one another. That will give you some strong cues as to how you can better interact with them in the future.
This follows along with the previous recommendation about adapting yourself to your situation and audience. By being a bit of a chameleon here, you’re not being untrue to your nature but instead just adapting it to your current, temporary surroundings. Like water in a mug rather than a crystal goblet, just for the time being.
7. Examine other people’s motivations.
Are people telling you that you’re intimidating in an attempt to change your behavior? Or are they being more passive and suggestive in trying to change or control you?
Some people like to cut others down or make them feel awkward to strengthen their positions.
For example, let’s say that two female friends are interested in the same guy. Friend 1 might tell friend 2 that the dude finds her intimidating, making friend 2 suddenly feel self-conscious. She might try to drastically change her behavior in order to be less appealing.
In turn, that might be off-putting to the guy, who liked her precisely as she was. Meanwhile, friend 1 (who isn’t a true friend if she’s pulling this kind of idiocy) makes their move on the guy. There was no intimidation present, just manipulation on 1’s part to get what she wanted.
Additionally, many folks feel awkward or intimidated when they’re in the presence of physically attractive people, especially if they have low self-esteem. Similarly, they might feel “less than” if they’re around those who are dressed expensively or are noticeably in a higher pay bracket/echelon than they are.
8. Be honest with yourself: Is it actually you or them?
If you keep getting feedback that others find you intimidating, it’s essential to recognize whether you are or if they’re overreacting.
Are you being asked to live “smaller” than you actually are because of other people’s oversensitivity? Or their personal wants? Are you considered to be intimidating by timid people, and thus they expect you to be quieter, softer, less ambitious, etc., so they don’t feel uncomfortable about themselves?
There’s a common trend nowadays in which exceptional people are encouraged to make themselves “less than” so as not to make others feel inferior. It’s akin to asking the gifted kids in the class to intentionally make spelling errors and math mistakes so they’ll be on an even playing field with those who are struggling.
The same thing happens when it comes to personality. In simplest terms, insecure people will always feel intimidated by those who are not. Rather than doing what they can to strengthen and empower themselves, they usually choose the easier route to try to level the playing field by disempowering others.
9. Remember that perception has many facets.
In addition to energetic differences, there are also gender disparities to consider.
Let’s say you’re in a work environment, and you receive an email that’s quite curt and straight to the point. If this email comes from a male colleague or superior, it will likely be seen as efficient and straightforward. In contrast, the same email from a female colleague might be seen as bossy, intimidating, and rude.
The motivations behind them might be the same. Still, the female colleague is expected to soften her tone and be more “cute” in communications to make others feel more comfortable. As you can imagine, this translates into other aspects of life.
What is perceived as capability and efficiency in one person will be construed as intimidating and demanding from another.
This has absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with other people’s perceptions. As a result, you’re under no obligation to make yourself lesser or change who you are.
10. Understand that other people’s emotional reactions are not your responsibility.
Suppose you’re dealing with being unintentionally intimidating to others. In that case, you’ll need to decide whether you want to change who you really are to be more likable to the general population.
We currently live in a climate where people are quick to take offense at things or cringe away from anything that pushes them out of their comfort zones. As a result, many folks will try to force others to behave in a way that makes them more comfortable, rather than learning how to cope and adapt with different situations. This is rather like trying to insist that weather outdoors acts more like a thermostat.
If others won’t conform to their preferences, they cry victim and insist that the other is intimidating, bullying, or otherwise victimizing them.
It’s not your responsibility to change yourself on a foundational level to make others feel more comfortable. Be the best version of yourself, and everything will fall into place.
Still not sure how to be less intimidating? Speak to a therapist today who can walk you through the process. Simply click here to connect with one of the experienced therapists on BetterHelp.com.
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