I have been told that I can be “intimidating.” The lack of smiling contributes to this image. So does having a fairly unemotional response to crises. And a default facial expression that reads as “unenthused.” I don’t entirely get it, but I have been told I’m intimidating.
As long as the one who is intimidating isn’t actively trying to intimidate, then the intimidation seems like a natural and even beneficial by-product of a business a relationship that matters and out of which might come something great.
But what is it that makes people intimidating? What is it that makes an intern a little on edge? What is it that makes you stumble over your words in front of your boss?
You could be unintentionally intimidating
You could be acting in an overconfident way. Overconfident people are
perceived as having a higher social status.
You could be rude. Rude people are perceived as having more power.
You could be tall. Tall people are seen as more intelligent, dominant, and
You could be attractive. Attractive people are perceived as smarter.
You could be a man with a shaved head. Men with shaved heads are seen as
You could be a man with a beard. Bearded men are seen as having higher
social status and being more aggressive.
You could have a deep voice. People with deeper voices are perceived as
stronger and more competent.
You could be a great-looking, overconfident, rude, tall, bearded guy with a
shaved head and deep voice. And congratulations, you are
really intimidating.But in order to be intimidating in a way that isn’t superficial, in a way that
is connected to the quality of your work and comportment, you have to have the
following things:And finally: empathy.
You may intimidate but you may not intimidate without acknowledging what you’re doing.
And what you’re doing is serious stuff. Research suggests that a social threat—here, feeling lesser in status—can setoff the same kind of fight-or-flight response as a physical threat. A flood of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol makes us jittery and hampers our ability to think logically and reflectively. You’re freaking people out when you intimidate them. And you need to understand this. You need to act upon that empathy. You need to do something that will put the other person at ease. That will lower their adrenaline levels, even if all you do is say, “You’re doing great,” which will be a great relief to the one you are
intimidating. There’s a lot of power in the intimidation. And there is a lot of power in mitigating it. If you have one without the other, you’re not doing it right.
But if you are able to do it the right way—if you can check off those four boxes
—then intimidation can be a very useful thing. It can establish order (just like it
did back in junior high). It can establish status, which is a key part of business—
even if you wish it weren’t. And it can establish a clear path for decision making.
Which is what everyone wants in the workplace.