Dear Dan: My Boss Says People are Afraid of Me

Dear Dan,

My superintendent told me I’m not getting the position.

He said, “You have great ideas, but take it slow. And he repeated, “Take it slow. Don’t rush anyone. I like your ideas, but you make people afraid of you.”

How should I take this?

Thanks for your advice. I always read your blog when I wake up on the morning.

Unintentional Intimidator

Dear Intimidator,

I’ll never forget when someone said, “I think you like to intimidate people.” Ouch! I think of myself as a fuzzy teddy bear. She thought I was a grizzly bear.

The feedback you would like to reject is often the most useful.

Leaders intimidate, even if they don’t intend to. For small-hearted leaders, making people squirm is a power-trip. But that’s not who you aspire to become.

Painful feedback provides an unexpected perspective on yourself.

4 dangers of unintended intimidation:

  1. Fear silences. People won’t tell you you’re intimidating because you’re intimidating.
  2. Fear makes people agree just to avoid confrontation.
  3. Fear makes people aggressive. You may experience unnecessary push-back.
  4. Fear motivates, but you won’t bring out someone’s best by consistently making them afraid.

7 ways to respond to painful feedback:

#1. Accept the confusing difference between intent and impact. You don’t intend to intimidate others, but others feel intimidated.

#2. Thank your superintendent. You’re fortunate to have someone who speaks the truth to you.

#3. Clarify the feedback. “Could you give me some examples?”

#4. Reject defensiveness, explanations, and excuse-making.

It doesn’t matter that feedback seems unfair. Just listen and explore.

There’s a grain of truth in feedback, even if it seems off base.

#5. Establish importance. Ask your superintendent, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how important to my advancement is dealing with this issue?”

#6. Talk this over with trusted colleagues.

#7. Lower intimidation with relationship-building.

  1. Give yourself extra time when walking from one meeting to another so you can pause and say ‘hi’. Being in a rush is intimidating.
  2. Eat in public places.
  3. Smile. Maintain gravity but stop frowning.
  4. Practice gentle curiosity. Aggressive curiosity is intimidating.

What suggestions do you have for Unintended Intimidator?

(I don’t count the question in my 300 word limit.)

Bonus material:

How to be less Intimidating (Lifehacker)

How to Communicate Without Intimidating (Our Everyday Life)

What to Do When Your Coworkers Find You Intimidating (Glassdoor)