If you are higher up the pole you are intimidating

I am frequently asked how to respond to more senior people who intimidate. Not those who deliberately set out to intimidate, but those who do so in all sorts of subtle ways without necessarily realising it. The conclusion I have come to is that if you are higher up the organisational pole, you will be intimidating by definition of your greater authority, no matter how skilful you are.

So if you are a team leader, supervisor, or manager, be aware that by virtue of your greater authority, you will be intimidating for some people. Here’s a baker’s dozen of behaviours that can intimidate without even realising it:

  1. Speaking quickly to people who need to take time to process information.
  2. Speaking loudly to people who speak softly.
  3. Looking down on people (if you are tall).
  4. Leaning back in a chair in such a way that you signal ‘I don’t care’ or ‘I’m better than you.’
  5. Making negative comments when people are offering their suggestions.
  6. Claiming you have an open door policy but in fact are difficult to access.
  7. Insisting that people only come with solutions to problems. (There are times when people genuinely don’t have a solution and need help.)
  8. Putting people on the spot to give their ideas or answer questions.
  9. Making it clear that not having an immediate answer to a question is unacceptable.
  10. Dominating their airwaves by doing all the talking.
  11. Making it difficult for others to put their ideas on meeting agendas.
  12. Making critical comments about other staff when they are not around to defend themselves.
  13. Not doing what you say you will do.

The easy path is to say you don’t do any of these things. But intimidation can be a subtle process. Even if you ask, people are not going to tell you you are intimidating for fear of appearing to criticise the boss or appear weak. Some ways around this are:

  • Use a personal coach to observe your behaviour and offer feedback.
  • Use anonymous feedback surveys with your staff.
  • Ask a trusted colleague or mentor.
  • Become more mindful of what you say and do and how others are responding. Notice, and adjust your behaviour.
Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.