Have people told you that you’re intimidating and you just don’t know why? You may be giving off signals that say “don’t mess with me” without realising it.
Or maybe you wish you were more intimidating, in which case you can read this post and do everything it advises people not to do. Some of us want to intimidate, or at least seem powerful in certain situations. However, often power comes from seeming approachable — maybe even likeable! You might want to be able to adjust the vibes you’re giving off.
Psychiatrist Grant Brenner writes for Psychology Today that intimidation is kind of a natural impulse:
Being of the animal kingdom, it’s wired into us to use a variety of displays of power in order to ensure our safety and status in the pack and further our goals. Not everyone is an apex predator or an alpha dog. But we are all tuned into where we stand with one another, with scant exceptions
Personally, I think if you’re aware of your abilities and are using them to bully others, you don’t deserve to compare yourself to an animal as wonderful as a dog. Brenner says that there are also a lot of people who are inadvertently intimidating because their perception of themselves is so different from what others see. Here’s what to look out for if you’re worried that’s your problem.
Don’t hide who you really are
If you have a specific persona you wear in public, for whatever reason, people can generally sense that. If it never shifts, Brenner says that gives others the impression that you’re invulnerable, which leads to feelings of “envy, admiration, and a sense of uncanny strangeness as something important but undefinable just seems off.”
That’s rather poetic, but it is a bit scary when you feel like you’re never seeing something genuine in someone. You can’t know where you stand with them, because you don’t know who they are. Be sure to show folks that you have different sides to your personality. You’re human, not a mask.
Be less verbally aggressive
You might be very smart. You might also be very funny. Try to assess if you use those abilities to shut people down, “win” in a conversation, or undermine other people’s emotions:
Competition and the need to win no matter what the stakes make it easy to hurl a clever quip, to lash out verbally, cornering and trapping.
That doesn’t mean being funny or smart is bad; just ask yourself if you’re always thinking of a quick comeback instead of really communicating. If people are afraid to tell you something because they might be mocked, that’s a problem.
Go less hard on competition generally
Sometimes we get so amped up on competition, we dehumanise other people. It’s all about us and there’s no room for them. You can think of it as being less competitive or you can think of it as being more “emotionally generous” with others:
Often out of insecurity and unresolved emotional wounds, some people become emotionally stingy, without realising it. They have great difficulty being generous with others, and with themselves, and this leads them to experience themselves as isolated from others.
Being super competitive may be isolating you and discouraging others from engaging. While that could be helpful in certain settings, like work, it’s not how you make friends. Even at work, having allies is sometimes more helpful than constantly #winning.
You’re too confusing
Sometimes, when people are too wrapped up in their inner world, they have difficulty communicating. They might just be great bullshitters, but the feeling that a person knows more than you, stuff that you’re not smart enough to grasp, is often overwhelming.
It’s great to be able to find people who really get you, but if it seems like no one does, maybe work on your clarity in conversation. You don’t need to make everything a philosophical debate immediately; let people get comfortable before bringing up the heady ideas. Then they might not be afraid to respond.
You’re really good-looking
According to Brenner, some of us are just blessed with good looks and that will always be intimidating:
Some people are born lucky — not that it doesn’t take hard work, too — or seemingly lucky because being very attractive, whether physically beautiful, intellectually gifted, famous, wealthy, sexy, talented, charismatic, or what have you, can indeed be a burden to those so touched.
He doesn’t really have any recommendations for this particular affliction, but being warm and kind can help bridge the gap. And it’s probably best to consider all the other potential reasons people are intimidated by you first.
This article has been updated since its original publish date.
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