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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 22-May-16


Sunday 22-May-16

How to be intimidating. Or not.

I recently had a conversation about intimidation with a person who was concerned that they were scaring others, even when they tried not to do so. Here are some of the thoughts that came out of that very interesting conversation.

Intimidating others means engendering fear, often with the purpose of coercing them into doing something they do not want to do. We can also do this accidentally or deliberately - the bottom line is that the other person feels a degree of fear as a result of their encounter with us.

Ways we can intimidate others include:

  • Staring at them, particularly without blinking.
  • Getting too close to them, entering their 'personal space'.
  • Speaking aggressively, even about other people.
  • Moving jerkily or suddenly, especially when you are close or when actions simulate harm (eg. chopping motion or with fist).
  • Behaving erratically and unpredictably, so they do not know what you will say or do next.

The ease with which we can accidentally intimidate suggests that we might reflect on how we act around others. Maybe we don't mean to be intimidating, yet it's possible we sometimes are, though without really noticing it. Paradoxically, when are act in intimidating ways, it is often a response to feeling intimidated ourselves. We sense aggression and meet fire with fire, escalating our aggressive stance. This can be overt and deliberate, but is often subtle and not noticed, even by us. Yet even small changes in how we act can make others uncomfortable.

A way to monitor this is to watch how other people react around you. Do they look alarmed? Do they back away? Do they give you space? Do they avoid you altogether? If so, try to see yourself through their eyes and decide consciously how you want them to respond to you, and consequently how you need to act around them.

To be non-intimidating, just do the reverse of intimidating action. For example:

  • Look warmly at them, but not for too long.
  • Give them space and act respectfully.
  • Listen attentively and act in kindly ways.
  • Be positive about other people.
  • Move smoothly and naturally. Keep hands open.


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