Have you ever dreaded seeing someone because of the way they make you feel? If not, you are one in a million. We have all been in a situation where the mere presence of another person makes us ill at ease. They either purposely or unwittingly make us feel awkward, uncomfortable and insecure. We may try to ignore the feeling, or ignore them, but usually we find ourselves in a room with them, having to face them and hating every minute of it.
The good news is that we don't have to let people make us feel that way. Actually, no one makes us feel anything. We let them. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "no one can make you feeL inferior without your consent."
The most interesting thing about people who intimidate us is that we give them the power to do it. Learning how to cope simply requires that we take that power back.
First, it's important to know when someone is actually trying to intimidate you. Typical behaviors include:
• Using force to get what they want from others;
• Threatening or using power to get control;
• Holding punishments over others' heads;
• Being overly emotional so others are afraid to upset them; and
• Using insults to make themselves seem better than others.
People who do these things seem like giants, with all the security and power in the world. The irony, however, is that they are actually fueled by their own insecurities and weakness. In other words, when people have to diminish others to make themselves feel better, they are behaving from a place of powerlessness. If you were to crawl inside the hearts and minds of these bullies, you would find nothing more than a quivering, lonely person in a lot of pain. You wouldn't trade places with them for anything.
With that in mind, you can begin the first step: Compassion. Don't worry so much about how you behave with them. Instead, see them with the same empathy that you would a friend who confided in you that he has felt less-than his entire life. It doesn't mean the behavior is excusable, remember it is based in their own misery.
When it comes to comes to communicating with these people, refuse to react. They are accustomed to seeing people respond emotionally to them -- either with fear, humiliation or anger. Show none of the above, even if you are feeling it.
There is a very useful tool you have probably read in these columns before on how to control your tone of voice. When you start to feel yourself react, you say three words to yourself: "Pass the salt." This phrase works because you are never angry or afraid when you ask someone to pass the salt at the dinner table. When you actually feel these and other negative emotions, you say it to yourself as a reminder to speak in precisely that tone of voice. When the intimidator tries to ruffle your feathers, show an even, "pass the salt" response and maintain your poker face. If they speak loudly, you continue to speak in a perfectly even and quiet tone. As soon as you give the angry tone back, you have lost the game.
There are also people who don't mean to intimidate you at all. They just seem mysterious, incredibly smart or successful, or just plain perfect. You tend to feel like nothing in comparison and you don't even have the pleasure of faulting them because they are so fantastic.
These people serve as wonderful reminders that we need to turn inward and recognize our own greatness. Instead of focusing on how to communicate with them, spend some time listing your own great qualities on paper or in your head. This isn't an exercise in hubris -- it is taking stock of our own gifts. The exercise alone, even if you do it once, is eye-opening and may set you more at ease in this other person's presence.
The bottom line with intimidating people is that it doesn't really matter if they are trying to make us feel bad or not. We always get to choose how we feel, and how we respond, if at all. We actually owe these people a thank-you for reminding us of our own responsibility and power.
Eliza Levy conducts seminars on conflict resolution and anger management. For more information, contact her at 305-296-5437 or visit http://www.elisalevy.com.