How to Be Less Intimidating

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People described as intimidating are often overly domineering and cause others to feel threatened, overwhelmed, or even afraid.

Being confident, assured, and commanding isn’t a bad thing. It can help people take you seriously in the workplace, social situations, and in interpersonal relationships. But there is a difference between being confident and being intimidating. 

Confidence is marked by self-belief and a willingness to assert your ideas. Intimidation, on the other hand, is characterized by trying to control or even silence the contributions of others. 

If people feel threatened by you, they are less likely to confide in you or seek your help. They may even try to avoid interacting with you at all. Being less intimidating can help you maintain your relationships and assure others that you aren’t as daunting as you seem. 

This article discusses ways you can be less intimidating and recognize signs that you might be intimidating to others. It also explores some of the reasons why people might see you this way and some of the potential benefits of being less intimidating.

5 Ways to Be Less Intimidating

Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to be less intimidating without giving up any of your assertiveness or confidence.

Use Good Eye Contact

While a lack of eye contact is often associated with low confidence or deceitfulness, too much intense eye contact can be overwhelming and intimidating. If people feel like you are staring them down, they are more likely to feel threatened in your presence.

Eye contact is important for good body language. It can be used to convey interest, honesty, and attentiveness. Some good rules of thumb for appropriate eye contact are to:

  • Follow the 5-second rule: Maintain eye contact for about four to five seconds before looking away. After briefly breaking contact by looking to the side, return your gaze.
  • Use the 50/70 rule: Experts suggest maintaining eye contact 50% of the time while speaking, and 70% of the time while listening.
  • Look near the eyes: Rather than averting your gaze altogether, try looking briefly at another point on their face near the eyes.

Work on Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to identify, understand, express, and manage emotions. This ability can play an important role in interpersonal relationships, allowing you to recognize better what other people are feeling and when they might feel threatened. 

Empathizing with other people and seeing things from their point of view is a good place to start. You might start by imagining yourself in their situation.

Seeing from their perspective can give you greater insight, which can inform how you respond in different social situations.

Smile at People

Try to smile at others and express more positive emotions in social situations. People may feel intimidated if you seem unapproachable or disapproving, so a smile can help you appear friendlier and more welcoming.

Smiling encourages positive social interactions that are important for developing and maintaining social relationships. If people feel that you have positive feelings and are interested in engaging in conversation with them, they are less likely to feel intimidated by you.

Pay Attention to Body Language

Your body language—including gestures, expressions, and posture—can be used to convey confidence. But others may find it intimidating if you stand too close or use sharp, sudden gestures.

While you don’t want to appear unconfident, small things like angling your body toward others, respecting people’s personal space, and avoiding aggressive gestures can help your body language seem less intimidating.

Show Gratitude to Others

Be willing to let other people know that you appreciate them. Expressing gratitude lets people know that you value their efforts. People who feel valued and receive genuine feedback are less likely to see you as intimidating.

Showing gratitude isn’t a sign of weakness and won’t make others lose respect for you. They will still value your leadership and respect your input, but they may be more likely to turn to you for assistance or offer their creative solutions instead of avoiding you out of fear.

Research has also shown that gratitude increases positive emotions. Not only will you feel more optimistic, but so will the people around you.

Be Validating

In addition to telling people that you notice and appreciate them, it is also essential to validate what others are feeling. You might have differing opinions, values, and ways of doing things, but you can still show them that you hear what they say and are interested in their perspective.

You can be more emotionally validating by:

  • Acknowledging other people's feelings
  • Showing support
  • Telling them that you hear and understand what they are saying

In many cases, simply saying something like, "I understand what you're saying" or "I get why you'd feel that way" can help people feel understood.

Strengthen Your Conversational Skills

People may see you as intimidating if you tend to dominate the conversation. While you might be used to taking center stage, having good listening skills and knowing how to engage in small talk can go a long way toward being seen as more approachable and reassuring. 

Strategies that can help include:

  • Active listening
  • Avoiding controversial conversation topics
  • Being positive
  • Asking the other person open-ended questions

Characteristics of Intimidating People

Intimidating people tend to have dominant personality traits and behaviors that command attention in groups. They are often the group's most influential members, but it can be off-putting and may lead to avoidance and poor social interactions.

Intimidating People
  • Blunt or brutally honest

  • Disregard for small talk

  • Stubborn

  • Decisive

  • Highly opinionated

  • High self-esteem

  • Judgmental

Approachable People
  • Accepting

  • Hospitable

  • Positive

  • Empathetic

  • Kind

  • Non-judgmental

Potential Causes of Being Intimidating

The tendency to be perceived as intimidating can be influenced by several different factors, including:

  • Personality: Sometimes, the tendency to be more intimidating might stem from personality characteristics and underlying temperament. For example, people with high levels of extroversion and low levels of agreeableness might be more likely to be seen by others as intimidating. 
  • Narcissism: People with certain personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder, may intentionally intimidate others to get attention and control.
  • Experiences: The tendency to be intimidating can also be learned through upbringing and life experiences. Some people may use domineering, assertive, or aggressive behaviors to control others. They might learn this from observing others or use it to avoid being hurt or controlled.

If other people describe you as intimidating, it is essential to consider why they might feel that way. Sometimes, people feel intimidated because of their insecurities, lack of confidence, poor self-esteem, and high anxiety levels.

For example, they may misinterpret your confidence or assertiveness as intimidation. Being welcoming and kind can help, but ultimately, it is up to others to address their issues.

Benefits of Being Less Intimidating

According to researchers, dominant people are usually the group's most influential members. However, their dominant behaviors, including intimidation, aggression, and coercion, tend to be aversive to others.

These characteristics may help people rise to positions of power. Those traits become a hindrance to things like fostering social harmony and improving group productivity.

If you are in a leadership position, becoming less intimidating can help improve team cohesiveness and productivity.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What makes a person intimidating?

    People who are confrontational, aggressive, and authoritative are more likely to be seen as intimidating. Being blunt, reserved, stubborn, and opinionated can also contribute to this perception.

  • Can shy people be intimidating?

    While extroverts are often seen as more assertive and confident, very introverted or even shy people can also be seen as intimidating. Because they tend to be reserved, keep to themselves, and often rely on closed body language, others sometimes misinterpret these signals as aloofness, disdain, and intimidation.

  • What can people do if they feel intimidated?

    For people who feel intimidated by others, boosting self-confidence can be a helpful first step. Remind yourself of your strengths and consider some of the reasons why you find another person intimidating. 

    Spend time with positive, supportive people who make you feel good about yourself, and use positive self-talk to foster healthy self-esteem.

It can be frustrating if other people find you intimidating. While you cannot control how others feel, there are strategies you can use to become more approachable.

If you want to be less intimidating, take steps you use good eye contact and open body language. Other strategies, such as smiling, expressing gratitude, and having good conversational skills, can also be beneficial.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.