Dear Dan: My Boss Says People are Afraid of Me
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.
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:
- Fear silences. People won’t tell you you’re intimidating because you’re intimidating.
- Fear makes people agree just to avoid confrontation.
- Fear makes people aggressive. You may experience unnecessary push-back.
- 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.
- Give yourself extra time when walking from one meeting to another so you can pause and say ‘hi’. Being in a rush is intimidating.
- Eat in public places.
- Smile. Maintain gravity but stop frowning.
- 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.)
How to be less Intimidating (Lifehacker)
How to Communicate Without Intimidating (Our Everyday Life)
What to Do When Your Coworkers Find You Intimidating (Glassdoor)
I always enjoy your posts but I wonder about #5… If the super took the time to tell you about it, isn’t that establishing importance? That’s like a student asking me, after I’ve made an assignment, “How important is this assignment to my passing the class?” Honestly, the mere asking of the question seems arrogant. So you’ve pointed out this flaw in me but in the big picture is it really something I need to address? Would the super have bothered if it wasn’t important?
Thanks Susan. Great points. I see where the tone of the question could be a problem. My goal is to help the person who is receiving tough feedback to see how important it is.
The person receiving the feedback may think it’s low on the priority scale. But is someone tells them it’s an 8 out of 10 it might be a wake up call.
Glad you jumped in.
Another good post. I’ve seen where this approach — a pretty forceful, possibly intimidating stance — is often valued when a person is brought in to help remedy a tough situation and bring about change. However, it often turns out that once the immediate crisis is over, that tact is not welcome, and then the person is confused by the removal of the praise they had come to know and love. It’s never good to be seen as intimidating and supervisors need to start out with the values of respect and dignity — while holding people accountable. That should work a whole lot better!
Thanks Mary Ellen. Great insights. We have to consistently value people whether in good times or stressful.
One question to ask people is, “What makes you feel respected?”
Being in a rush or “Rammy” as we label it, has issues that need to be addressed as pointed out.
Depending on the environment or task at hand always being in a rush can cause turmoil, injuries, poor or out of control decisions. If the Superintendent and the workers has these labels of you, I think you need to step back and look in the mirror and reboot yourself.
Ask yourself what was the circumstances? How many times has this happened? What is the core of ones rushing to get done? Give yourself an honest evaluation.
Granted some processes are fast paced in manufacturing for ex. the production lines run, the environment is fast and somewhat automated, yet we control the pace.
Perhaps see what you can do to change your pace?
Best of luck.
Thanks Tim. Love your insight about constant rush. “Hurry UP” is useful occasionally, but it’s not a sustainable strategy.
My first thought was “Wow, I want to work for that superintendent! It sometimes seems like direct feedback is rare. I would bet that how they use this particular feedback will determine in large part if they get the next open position. What an opportunity!
Thanks mhart. Yes, if we can get over the inner struggle with our own imperfections, we can really benefit from feedback that helps us see ourselves better.
A question might be, “How could I put myself in a position to earn the next opportunity?” (Without creating an obligation.)
There are times when an individual’s self-confidence can be intimidating. That doesn’t mean don’t be confident in your self, your ideas, and your beliefs. Sometimes it is just being mindful that not everyone has the same level of self-confidence and can feel “less than” when ideas are presented in a manner than doesn’t offer the opportunity for feedback. This doesn’t work in every situation, but if there isn’t imminent danger, give others time to process your idea, offer suggestions on how to make it even better, and let them be a part of the change.
Thanks Gina. You speak the truth. This is where self-awareness is so helpful. How are we impacting others? It’s not helpful to intimidate people. Sometimes it’s useful to chill out.
Showing respect to others seems to be applicable in the situation you bring up.
The unintended intimidator needs to smile more. Take a genuine interest in others. Bring them a cookie. Ask opinions from others and don’t talk over them. Just listen and appreciate their ideas. Respect is good. Intimidation is not.
Thanks Hamilton. The great thing about a smile is that it’s FREE. It also makes life better for the person smiling. 🙂
What suggestions do you have for Unintended Intimidator? I would suggest you get a mentor that you respect but it needs to be someone who sees you and your team frequently. Then plan to do a 360 review within 6 months. I do have a problem with #2. Lunch is my only quite time of the day, often 24 hours. Everyone knows if you come in my office during lunch it needs to be a major issue that cant wait. Is that wrong?
Thanks Walt. Any behavior that we don’t see ourselves doing, but others see, requires an outside voice. Good call on getting a mentor who sees you, knows you, and will speak the truth to you.
RE Lunch: Every one needs to recharge. 🙂
Great post and spot-on! At one point in my career, the “unintended intimidator” label could definitely have been applied to me. Brought into middle management of a stodgy and struggling organization to implement drastic (to them) changes, both my agenda and my seriousness about the tasks at hand scared a few people. Well, okay, more than a few! In addition, I was a physically imposing presence and had a somewhat formidable reputation in my field that preceded me in the new position. Fortunately, I quickly recognized the problem and embarked on a “fear reduction” campaign to counteract the inaccurate first impression I had inadvertently created. As you could well guess, building relationships, seeking constant feedback and creating trust were the ingredients needed. Lesson learned!
Thanks Jim. I appreciate your story. Congtrats on seeing yourself. It’s not that easy. Here’s the lesson I take from your comment. We have to take definitive steps to solve the problems we create. They don’t simply go away on their own.
On the occasions where I’ve been the receiver of “tough love” I work to listen and understand. Generally, people don’t like delivering a tough message, so when they work up the guts to say something, it is my job to listen, say thank you and absorb.
Thanks Rich. So true. Make it easy for people to tell you hard truths. Avoid defensiveness. Practice curiosity. Commit to improvement. Adopt a grateful response.
This article reminded me of the time my principal shared some thoughts about me from a parent. He didn’t see it, but he saw me on a regular basis. And this was about how the parent saw me from their few “snapshots” of me teaching from time to time.
I didn’t like it. I wanted to fight it and explain why they might have said it, but then I heard this powerful words, “This is their perception of you. You can’t fight it. All you can do is attempt to change it.” I needed to hear that and they were absolutely right. And I’ve used those same words for students and other teachers from time to time. Wise words!!!
How great to see a leader being so transparent and vulnerable! I pulled the following quote from the book Win the Heart by Mark Miller & Randy Gravitt:
“A great work environment is one where leaders listen and respond in real time. When employees show up knowing leaders care enough to listen, they care more. As the leader, you are responsible for the environment. Work to create the kind of place you would like to work, and your people will show up every day ready to contribute their best.”
The key to engaging and being supportive lies in our compassion mindset. Do you believe
everyone has innate value? That people around you are capable of positive contribution? And that people are responsible for their own feelings and behaviors, as you are?