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Mission Impossible: How to act and speak to someone who intimidates you

. 8 min read

Have you ever get tongue-tied during a date, at work or a party while you are talking with someone you find talented, attractive or intelligent?

When we feel hierarchy stress while talking with people that we find impressive, we worry that the person may think less of us and judge us. In these social contexts, we may get tongue-tied and struggle to make a conversation.

Humans are inherently social; we search for a sense of community to connect with other people and share our lives. So, it is very normal to care for what other people think about us. That's why we find ourselves in conversations with people we perceive as more powerful, smarter or more charismatic than us, and we may feel inadequate and get intimidated.

What is intimidation?

Merriam-Webster defines intimidating as "causing a loss of courage or self-confidence: producing feelings of fear or timidity." The underlying reasons for feeling intimidating may differ regarding personalities and social context. Sometimes we are triggered by our insecurities or feel the anxiety of proving ourselves.

How to deal with intimidation?

Whatever the reasons are, there are many methods to overcome intimidation and talk with people who have intimidating personality.

#1 Practice positive self-talk

We have an inner voice shaped by our beliefs, ideas, thoughts and emotions. And we are in a constant dialog with this inner voice. Sometimes the context is encouraging, and sometimes it gets more stressful and pessimistic.

When we experience intimidation, we hear this voice in our head telling us we are awkward, undesired and ignorant. The tone of our inner voice highly depends on our personality, but this doesn't mean that we are stuck with what we have. You can practice your positive self-talk to boost your self-esteem and reduce stress by changing your perspective.

Instead of saying "I am going to embarrass myself," shift that inner dialogue and say, "I am proud of myself just even for trying; I feel brave." To adopt positive self-talk in your daily life, first, start by identifying the negative self-talk traps.

As you recognize your negative-talk patterns, you can work on them. With this practice, it will get easier for you to flip your negative thoughts when you experience intimidation.

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#2 Prepare and practice beforehand

If you have a scheduled meeting or a planned occasion with the person causing intimidation, you can prepare beforehand. There are a couple of preparations you can make.

First of all, you can start with working on the subject. A good level of expertise will help you to feel confident. After you do your homework, you can also prepare a questions list that this person with an intimidating personality may ask.

Moreover, you can also learn more about the person. As you get to know his/her career path, personality and interests, you may feel more comfortable. Also, you can detect some common interests that can help you start a conversation and prepare some small talks.

#3 Know your strengths

When we experience intimidation, we generally focus on the areas in which we think the other person is superior to us. This biased comparison and the feeling of intimidation cause us to think of ourselves less and turn a blind eye to our strengths.

Being aware of your strengths and giving yourself credit for it doesn't mean that you are selfish or cocky as the king of spades. On the contrary, it can help you to know yourself better and understand what you can contribute to the issue at hand.

A communication consultant and a coach in Minneapolis, Amelia Reigstad has summarized this self-awareness competency as "Know yourself, how you react in situations and how you best communicate. To be an authentic communicator, give thought to actively listening, respecting yourself and others, taking responsibility for your feelings, and know that showing emotions in conversations is OK."

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#4 Mind your body language

As there is a verbal dialogue in a conversation, there is also non-verbal communication that gives many clues about our feelings and thoughts. Body language, just like all verbal languages, is a way of communication through which we express our emotions and ideas.

Our body language can affect how we feel and think.

When you are interacting with others, examine what your body language is telling. If you avoid eye contact, hunch your shoulders or catch yourself shaking your legs, you may reveal your uncertainty and feeling of intimidation.

And body language is not all about expressing our emotions and ideas; it can also affect how we feel and think. There is two-way communication between our body and mind.

A social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, explained how body language could make a difference between succeeding and failing at job interviews in her TedTalk. Her research showed that high power poses caused lower stress levels than those in low power poses.

Here are some beginning steps for you to take control of your mood and feelings:

  • Make eye contact
  • Put a smile on your face
  • Use a firm handshake
  • Maintain a good posture
  • Unfold your arms

#5 Keep in mind that these people are human, too

No matter if they have an intimidating personality, they are not made of steel. The communication coach, Jennifer Kammeyer, suggests using the phrase "just like me" to remind yourself that they have feelings and needs just like you.

Negative emotions like the feeling of intimidation are not something to be ashamed of, or they are not only available to you. We all have emotionally and physically down moments; the trick is to find the up thoughts to overcome these negative feelings. Try to shift your thoughts of the person from intimidating to human by emphasizing the commonalities. They feel tired, sad, anxious, just like you, and they need to sleep, eat, and share.

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#6 Acknowledge and embrace your feelings

Anxiety, intimidation, stress, sadness… These are all feeling that we experience, just like happiness, joy, love and relief. But as a defense mechanism, we try to force our way out of these negative feelings as we don't want to encounter them consciously.

When you experience the feeling of intimidation, accept the presence of this feeling.

As we do so, we constantly tell our body and mind that we cannot cope with these feelings, so we choose the escape. With repetition, we forcefully teach ourselves that we can't overcome these feelings.

But as the therapist, Melissa Weinberg, said, "The more you try to get rid of it, the more intense and distracting your anxiety will become." Instead of escaping your feelings, she suggests, "Practicing acceptance and allowing the presence of anxiety is a much more adaptive strategy. Even though it can understandably be uncomfortable to practice, it can teach you that anxiety is tolerable."

When you experience the feeling of intimidation, accept the presence of this feeling. We all find ourselves in uncomfortable conversations. Instead of running away from it, try to understand the reasons for intimidation.

#7 Calm down and take a deep breath

You have overcome many obstacles in your life so far. It is just another obstacle that you can deal with and accomplish. The feeling of intimidation is just a perspective you have for a person.

Before getting into a conversation with this person, allow yourself to take some deep breaths and remind yourself that nothing is permanent. You can change your perspective and shape your feelings and ideas when you are up for it.

Slowly take a deep breath in through the nose, hold it for four seconds and release your breath through the mouth. You can repeat this same basic breathing exercise until you feel relaxed.

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#8 Boost your self-esteem

The feeling of intimidation is often experienced when we think that the other person is superior to us. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. When we experience the feeling of intimidation, we tend to forget our accomplishments.

When we experience the feeling of intimidation, we tend to forget our accomplishments.

To boost your self-esteem, you can create an accomplishments list for yourself as a reminder. Give yourself credit for what you have done so far to see what you are capable of doing in the future.

Wrapping Up

All of our feelings are a part of who we are. If you want to be at peace with yourself, you can start taking the time to know yourself.

As you work on your self-knowledge, you will have a greater chance of avoiding errors in communication with others and the formulation of your life choices.

The feeling of intimidation can be the tip of the iceberg of a bigger self-issue. If you want to overcome intimidation, do not hesitate to question your feelings and thoughts.

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Kevin O. Frank

Co-founder and Product Owner @circleboom #DataAnalysis #onlinejournalism #DigitalDiplomacy #CrisesCommunication #newmedia

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