Intimidation has a way of stunting you, both professionally and in terms of personal growth. It's not, however, something you have to suffer by default. You can put an end to it starting today, and you don't need to sacrifice your pride or decorum to do it.

1. Mentally prepare yourself well ahead of time for interacting with the person who intimidates you.

We compare ourselves to others all the time because we get a feeling of safety and security when we know we're just as good as--if not better than--someone else. In this context, intimidation is essentially just the feeling that somebody's able to outdo us. Much of handling intimidating people thus lies in stopping that comparison, or in reassuring ourselves we've got plenty of points to fight with.

  • Remind yourself there's really no such thing as "equal" footing, just different footing. You and the intimidating person cannot possibly have the exact same skills, personality, background, goals or biology. You thus cannot make an accurate apples-to-apples assessment of who is "best".
  • Tell yourself that, for all the other person's accomplishments or abilities, they're human. Everyone makes mistakes. It's just that you might not be aware of all of theirs.
  • Review your accomplishments or positive qualities to confirm your abilities and right to personal confidence.
  • Think about people who made you feel competent and special. The positive memories can decrease your stress.
  • Remind yourself that, in the age of social media and ultra-competitiveness, the person who intimidates you might not be showing their real self. If you really get to know them, they might be much warmer than you initially give them credit for. Commit to talking to them with the aim of finding out their story.

2. Plan out what you want to say.

The feeling of intimidation can make you mentally choke, leaving you at a loss for words that makes you feel even worse. You don't have to come up with a script you'll repeat word for word, especially because you have to respond naturally to whatever the other person says back. But you can identify the main points you want to bring up and practice saying those in a few different ways.

3. Practice with others.

Maybe the person at the drive-thru didn't put the extra pickles on your sandwich. Say so! If you can be assertive in these smaller situations, you'll reassure yourself you can stand up for yourself.

4. Offer the right body language.

Standing proud and tall communicates to the intimidating person that you can't be pushed around, that you're sure of yourself. But it's as much for you as for them. As social psychologist Amy Cuddy discusses in her well-received Ted Talk, good posture actually can create the feelings of confidence you hope to portray. Stay relaxed, make good eye contact and smile. Science has proven that there are "mirror neurons" in the brain that respond to elements like facial expression and contribute to empathy, so if you adopt an approachable demeanor, you can get back what you give.

5. Use comic visualization.

Picture the intimidating person dancing in a tutu, lounging in their undies with some chips or belting Adele's greatest hits during their commute. The exact picture really doesn't matter. The idea is simply to use a goofy visualization to tell your brain they don't pose a threat, thereby shutting down the fight-or-flight stress response.

6. Focus on how the other person is feeling.

Focusing too much on what you want from the intimidating person can make you miss important cues that could help you communicate more effectively. For example, do they seem stressed themselves at the moment? Are they distracted? Could they use a quick cup of coffee? The reason for their bad mood, dominance or aggression might not have anything to do with you! Respond to those cues and ask yourself how you can serve them with compassion and genuineness. Small gestures or a kind word as you speak can be incredibly disarming and serve to build a better long-term relationship.

7. Talk firmly from the heart.

I statements typically keep intimidating individuals from moving to the defensive and trying to be even more assertive. At the same time, firmness within truthful I statements tells the intimidating person that you have strength of your own. Mix your I statements with frequent validations of what they're saying. Most people just want to be heard and will relax if they know you're valuing their thoughts.

People can be intimidated for many reasons, such as reputation, body and verbal language, unpredictability, reputation or uncertainty about the value they have to the other person. Tune in to exactly why you're uncomfortable. You might have some personal work to do as much as the person who intimidates you does. Once you understand what's driving that feeling in your gut, you can tackle it head on.

Published on: Aug 23, 2017
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