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How to Communicate Without Intimidating

by Freddie Silver

Most of us do not deliberately try to intimidate others. While it may be enjoyable to get people to do what you want, it's preferable to motivate and inspire co-workers and family members rather than intimidate them into action. The intimidation might be created by something you don't consciously control, such as excessive height that makes you tower over others, or your leadership position, but it is usually the result of how you communicate. If you want to cease intimidating those around you, you'll have to adopt new ways of communicating.

Be aware that intimidation can ruin relationships. When people feel intimidated they usually become resentful and lose respect for the intimidator.

Determine why people feel intimidated by you. Examine your interactions and ask yourself if you have a subconscious desire to manipulate others. Unresolved feelings of insecurity might manifest as a desire to bully or control. Increasing your self-confidence may help you interact in a more positive way.

Think about what you're going to say before you say it. Choose your words carefully, especially when it's necessary to give criticism. Avoid pejorative words, and don't make threats.

Don't project a know-it-all attitude. Some people feel intimidated when confronted by arrogance. Don't interrupt when someone is speaking to you, even when you believe that person is wrong. Show that you can really listen and keep an open mind to alternate points of view. Disagree respectfully if you must.

Let people know you'll be OK with a negative response from them before you make a request. For example, introduce your request with a phrase such as, "I'll understand completely if you're unable to help ..." And mean it. Insincerity can be detected.

Pay attention to your tone and volume when you address someone. Use a soft, gentle voice with inflection that goes up at the end of your sentence so you'll sound less demanding.

Speak slowly and pause during the conversation to seek feedback. Ask nonthreatening questions such as, ”Is that OK"? Avoid using sarcasm.

Keep your relationships friendly and supportive. Offer to help whenever possible. Never betray a confidence. If you always act with integrity, you'll increase trust.

Be aware of relative height positions during conversations. You'll be perceived as more intimidating if you're standing while others are sitting. Sitting side by side with someone is less intimidating than if you remain seated behind your desk, especially if you hold a position of authority.

Keep in mind that body language is a major part of any communication. Pay attention to your hand gestures. What you intend to be enthusiasm could be perceived as aggression.

Keep your distance and don't invade other people's personal space. The acceptable, comfortable distance between nonfamily members during regular conversations varies by culture, but most North Americans feel threatened if you stand closer than 4 feet.

Be careful where you place yourself in the room. People feel intimidated by those who project a sense of entitlement or ownership to the physical objects around them. Leaning in the doorway of someone else's office or sitting on the edge of someone else's desk can be threatening. Asking permission before you sit shifts the power balance and makes you more approachable.

About the Author

Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.

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