16 Signs Your Coworkers Are Intimidated by You

Here are signs that your coworkers find you intimidating, according to experts:

Eropa Stein

Eropa Stein

Founder & CEO, Hyre

When your coworkers are intimidated by you, they are less likely to approach you for help and may under-communicate while working with you, affecting productivity.

It can be harder to tell virtually if coworkers are intimidated through body language, but you can also listen to the way they speak and their tone of voice.

  • Does a coworker that normally jokes around with other colleagues sound more stiff or serious around you?

This is similar to someone having stiff body language around you.

  • If you were to ask how a coworker’s day was, are their responses shorter and more closed off than the same response to another person?
  • Most importantly, do you find yourself communicating in a way that is stiff, serious, and brief?

Coworkers may mirror your communication style, and if you want to change this, you can start exhibiting more openness. For example, I smile during conversations and share details about my day so that my coworkers feel comfortable doing the same.

That being said, your coworkers may show this body language during a conversation if they find you intimidating:

1. Lack of eye contact

People will avoid eye contact with you when they feel threatened or intimidated. It’s a subtle subconscious mechanism to shield themselves from you.

2. Body is slightly turned away

This could be a signal that they want to get away from you as soon as possible.

3. Crossing of the arms

This can be interpreted as defensive posture and provides a sense of comfort to the arm-crosser when feeling threatened.

4. Stiff or rigid body

A person’s body can become stiff or rigid when they feel very intimidated. They become fearful that any movement might set you off.

Grant Aldrich

Grant Aldrich

Founder & CEO, Online Degree

As an entrepreneur for over 10 years, I’ve helped employees navigate many workplace challenges. Here is my advice for people who may be afraid they intimidate others.

5. Other employees avoid you in common spaces

When you arrive in the Zoom waiting room, and another coworker is there, what happens? If they make small talk and have open body language, they probably don’t feel intimidated by you.

But if they hop up to feed their cat or go to the bathroom, it could mean they don’t feel comfortable talking to you.

6. Coworkers end conversations abruptly

Do people usually come up with an excuse mid-conversation to get out of it? Perhaps you talk about touchy subjects, or you don’t let them get a word in.

If conversations don’t end naturally, it could be a bad sign that people feel unnerved by you.

People don’t make eye contact with you

Eye contact is a sign that people feel comfortable with one another. If people don’t meet your eyes, it could mean they feel intimidated by you. Intimidation may make someone feel powerful, but in reality, it prevents real connection.

Nicole Sud, Ph.D.

Nicole Sud

Industrial-Organizational Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University | Owner, 3-Under-Three

7. They don’t share their own ideas

If coworkers are intimidated by you, they may be hesitant to disagree with you, or to share their own ideas in your presence. When you ask questions to your coworkers, you may not be getting as many responses as you were hoping for.

What it looks like:

In a meeting, after you’ve answered a question or shared an idea, no one else has anything to share. The group appears to agree with you, although no one has said so overtly.

How to mitigate this:

Don’t always be the first person to speak up with a solution or an idea. Allow for some silence after a question is asked before chiming in. Some employees are able to answer questions immediately, whereas others may take a minute or two to formulate their thoughts.

If you tend to jump in quickly with responses, remind yourself to pause and let someone else answer first.

You may also consider phrasing your ideas and suggestions in a way that reflects that this is just one option, as opposed to the option to pursue. You can start by saying, “One idea may be to…” or end with phrases that encourage dialogue and dissent, such as, “But what do you think…” or “What downsides would you see with this plan?”

Be sure to then acknowledge other’s contributions, without critique, to encourage them to continue to speak up and share their thoughts.

Jennifer Powers

Jennifer Powers

Owner and President, J Powers Recruiting, Inc.

8. They will tell you that you intimidate them

I never assume that people are intimidated by me, so it has to be very obvious; otherwise, I will not pick up on it.

For example, one of our rookie recruiters said to me, “you intimidate me” (a pretty obvious sign, huh?), which made me uncomfortable, so I initially made a joke out of it and laughed it off.

After I recovered, it started a conversation between the two of us. She said that sitting next to me and hearing my conversations made her feel like she could not do the job and that I expected her to pick up on things quickly.

I assumed that if I can do it, anybody can do it, forgetting that I had been in the industry for 16 years, and I made it look “easy.” My assumptions hurt her because I was dismissive of her concerns, and she told me this. Ouch.

We realized that she needed training from somebody other than me, which we decided to move forward with. This is part of the reason we became a network office of Sanford Rose Associates so that we could get the training and other leadership support we needed.

These conversations, plus the action of getting outside help, bolstered up the recruiter, and she was able to develop and grow. It comes down to being aware and being willing to have tough, mature conversations.

Usually, if somebody feels intimidated, it manifests as anger or drama or worse. I am grateful to her because it takes maturity for somebody to admit to somebody else that they are intimidated and to communicate it in an open and honest way.

Hmmm, maybe she intimidated me.

No matter what, it’s always a leadership problem – the leadership of a team or of yourself.

Tal Perry

Tal Perry

Founder and CEO, LightTag

I founded a company in a niche domain in which I’m an expert. Hiring people with similar expertise isn’t feasible, and I’ve noticed that I tend to intimate new hires because of my perceived authority.

Intimidating new hires or anyone is very counterproductive as it delays their growth into independent experts and contributors towards the companies’ success.

Having made mistakes a number of times, I track these two signs as flags that my employees might be intimated.

9. They tell you about efforts instead of problems

I like to run catch-ups so that we can surface problems quickly and resolve them, and we do so daily. A major signal of intimation is when employees speak about the efforts they’ve made but not the problems they have.

When an employee is intimidated or insecure, they are hesitant to share things that may cast them in a negative light. This slows down the discovery of underlying issues that could otherwise be quickly resolved.

A technique to handle this is to set an example by sharing my own challenges and asking my team for feedback and suggestions, often directly asking the intimated employee for their opinion. As a leader, this sets a tone and culture without making any demands of the team that might make them more insecure.

They don’t push back on your ideas

I think that the team members doing the day-to-day work have a much better understanding of its intricacies than I do. However, I am the boss and have significant domain expertise which can intimidate employees from sharing their perspective.

A clear symptom is when they don’t push back on suggestions I make, instead deferring to my managerial authority or domain expertise. I’ve found that changing the way I make suggestions makes it easier for employees to push back and grow their confidence and independence.

Articulating ideas as questions instead of statements is particularly helpful.

For example, instead of saying, “I noticed A, B and C, so I want to do X,” I’ve learned to say, “Do you think that A, B, or C could be influenced by X ?” This gives the team the chance to engage with me on the topic and fosters a culture of inquisitive dialogue.

Paul Sundin

Paul Sundin

CEO, Emparion

As a manager and a business owner, I work closely with my employees and see firsthand how intimidation creeps into the workplace and what effects it brings. I have also had my share of being intimidated and intimidating others as well.

Here are telltale signs that your coworkers are intimidated by you:

10. They do not make an effort to know you

While coworkers are meant to really work together and not to be friends, a certain level of acquaintance is usually needed for employees to be able to work with one another smoothly. This calls for small efforts like asking some not so personal questions and engaging in small talks.

However, if you do not see anyone trying to get to know you, that might be a sign that they’re intimidated by you.

11. They will micromanage you

If someone particularly higher than you on the corporate ladder is intimidated by you, you will notice that they will micromanage you. They will look at your outputs under a magnifying glass, and you will see that they only do this to you.

They single you out every time, and they might sometimes disguise it as a normal thing a manager does, but if you do observe closely, you’ll see that this treatment is unique to you.

Svitlana Harkusha

Svitlana Harkusha

HR manager, Get Cover Letter

I follow the team’s relationships, and I can clearly say that the signs that you intimidate your colleagues are:

12. They do not contradict you

Any productive work involves arguments and disagreements that lead to worthwhile ideas. But if you notice that no one ever disputes your thoughts, this is a sure sign that colleagues are intimidated.

It may seem to you that this is good because if your ideas are not challenged, they are taken to work.

But what if the remarks they kept silent about would help avoid mistakes? In this case, the fact that your coworkers are intimidated by you negatively affects the overall results.

Lack of eye contact

Colleagues simply do not want to look you in the eyes because they are afraid to see reproach or dislike in them.

Silence when you appear

Suppose you notice that all conversations always stop when you enter the room. In that case, this is a sure sign that your colleagues are afraid that you will condemn such small talks or your opinion will not coincide with theirs, which will lead to unnecessary conflict or misunderstanding.

They subconsciously think that they will have to make excuses for their thoughts.

Dorota Lysienia

Dorota Lysienia

Community Manager, LiveCareer

They are more likely to avoid you

If your coworkers are intimidated by you, they are more likely to avoid you. Their behavior can take a variety of forms. You might notice that people will:

  • prefer emailing you instead of calling
  • always saying “yes” to any of your ideas
  • are overly apologetic

One of the first alarming signals is the lack of feedback. On the one hand, coworkers are afraid of expressing their opinion that questions any of your actions.

It’s common that your team’s brainstorming sessions become very one-sided as people don’t share their views. At first, you might even think that your team members think alike and easily reach a consensus. However, don’t mix conformity and fake harmony with team unity.

If you see that your meetings are much shorter than in the past, and you’re the main talker, it’s time to reflect on your behavior.

13. Lack of feedback

You might also observe that your coworkers not only avoid giving you feedback but also don’t ask for one. This might be caused by their fear of your extensive criticism or impulsiveness.

People sense when you’re not open to discussion and think that your ideas are better than theirs.

That’s why it’s healthy to open up a bit and show your human side. Think about the times when you’ve screwed up and share it with others. By doing so, your coworkers will see you as human and will be more relaxed around you.

Karthik Subramanian

Karthik Subramanian

Senior Content Manager, Picmaker

I have been working for 15 years in corporate life, and I know when my co-workers are intimidated by me. The telltale signs are when:

They avoid meeting you in person

More often, when you operate at a scale much higher than them. By that, I mean when you don’t mingle with them during lunch breaks or at the coffee machine, you will notice that they will maintain a distance from you.

14. They avoid going with you for external meetings

I remember I used to work with a co-founder of the company. He’d be making promises that we may not be able to deliver to our partners. During one such occasion, I had to travel with him to meet external partners, and I found it very uncomfortable sitting next to him during our cab journey and during the meeting itself.

He wouldn’t allow me to speak on a topic that I was aware of him more than himself. I felt not just intimidated, but at some level, even humiliated.

15. They talk about you to other workers

This used to happen in my earlier company. People who had to interact with the above-mentioned co-founder felt that his talk and plans were extremely grandiose.

The point here is that your plans can be grandiose, but you should also guide them about how to implement them.

For example, let us say we are an IT startup competing with giants like Accenture or Capgemini. Now, how do you take these giants on without a methodical approach? We can keep talking and dreaming about it, but without a practical approach, all our plans will fade away.

These people used to come and tell me that they didn’t have the gumption to say ‘No’ to him, fearing his temper. Ultimately, when his plans were unfulfilled, he will begin showing his ire on co-workers, and it would make everyone in the office unhappy.

When you overcomplicate things and you are looking for perfection

Let me narrate another example here. As a startup, we had to place a signboard outside our office. We spoke to a few vendors and found that we could get a good signboard for less than $100.

Now, this co-founder would not agree and asked us to look for vendors who would give us options that were five times more expensive (because they were fancy signboards and it would burn a big hole in our pocket).

The trouble is as a startup, you are always falling behind business targets. So, when you’re running short of time, I would go for an option that would get the job done quickly than look for perfection.

This was a regular feature, and I felt the only way to get rid of it was to leave the place and move on than fighting with a bully who never understood your problems.

Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan

HR Professional | Founder and CEO, JCSI

One clear sign that your coworkers are intimidated by you, is if they:

16. They ask a different coworker to deliver a message

If they ask a different coworker to deliver a message or (even worse) ask a manager to tell you something, then your coworker is probably intimidated by you.

Also, if a coworker sends you an email or message instead of speaking to you in person, then that’s another huge sign to show you that they are intimidated by you.

An indirect communication line usually shows you that a coworker will do whatever it takes to not speak to you face-to-face. This means they are afraid of what the response might be and they feel like they are not able to respond accordingly or keep up with you in a conversation.

No matter the feelings they have, delivering a message through someone else or doing it virtually usually means that someone is intimidated by you and is doing whatever they can to not meet with you in person.

Dr. Brooke Nicole Smith, PhD

Brooke Smith

Mind and Body Confidence Expert for Women Entrepreneurs

When someone is intimidated by you, it’s a reflection of them (not you)

I’ll make this easy: In all probability, someone you work with is intimidated by you. Humans are easily distracted, have a propensity for comparing ourselves to others, and tend to waste a lot of energy mentally micromanaging the people around us.

You are a human surrounded by human coworkers. At least one of them is intimidated by you. That said, coworkers being intimidated by you isn’t actually a problem all by itself.

If specific behaviors are problematic — bullying, sabotage, lying, manipulation, etc. — you can directly address those behaviors and/or insulate yourself from the impact as much as possible.

If something is actually wrong (think: illegal, unethical, or creating a hostile work environment), report it through whatever channels you can. But, for the most part, coworkers feeling intimidated by you is totally harmless and just a normal part of workplace politics.

Lastly, you can’t change what someone thinks of you.

When someone is intimidated by you, it’s a reflection of them (not you). Focus on how you are showing up, how you are contributing in the workplace, and how you are treating your coworkers. The rest is outside of your control.

Janet Ruth Heller, Ph.D.

Janet Ruth Heller

Educator | Author | President, Michigan College English Association

Co-workers will avoid being in workgroups with the intimidating person

If a person intimidates other employees, the co-workers will avoid disagreeing with anything that the scary individual says. This creates a bad climate for discussion because problems with a proposal or idea will get suppressed due to fear.

In addition, co-workers will avoid being in workgroups with an intimidating person. If no one wants to join a particular individual to contribute to a joint effort or project, that is a bad sign.

Also, an intimidating employee may cause other workers to quit their jobs to avoid interacting with the dominating person, especially if the scary person is their supervisor.

My brother had an intimidating boss at his public accounting firm; a woman who would constantly attack and criticize him for everything, including his taste in movies. I met her one day and found her extremely alienating after a ten-minute conversation. My brother left the firm to have a more supportive work environment.

I suggest that businesses and nonprofit organizations periodically do surveys of employees to ask whether any co-workers are impossible to work with.

Another solution would be having a suggestion box allowing employees to submit comments about problems at the firm.

If an individual believes that he or she is intimidating other workers, that person should seek counseling from a good social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist to learn to modify his or her behavior.

Most people can learn to become more open-minded, present a less hostile presence, and include other people more in making decisions and in projects.

Michelle Devani

Michelle Devani

Founder, lovedevani

In the workplace, we might make our colleagues feel intimidated without us meaning to. As a founder, I have experienced this a lot of times already.

Intimidation can create a culture of fear and negatively affect relationships in the workplace. Knowing if a colleague feels uncomfortable or intimidated by you is crucial because it will help you make the needed changes for a better workplace.

Though you can’t exactly know what your colleagues think or feel about you, there are some signs which can help you know what your colleagues’ thoughts are.

  • They can’t make eye contact. Not being able to make eye contact is a clear sign that a person feels threatened or intimidated.
  • They stand back. When a colleague stands back and maintains distance when talking to you, this can be a sign that your colleague is uncomfortable around you or afraid of you.
  • Protective body language. When a colleague maintains protective body language while talking to you, such as crossing their arms or turning slightly away, this may be because they feel uncomfortable and intimidated.

Max Woolf

Max Woolf

Career Expert, ResumeLab

Their body language grows protective

Since workplace dynamics is often challenging, it often happens that your personality might intimidate your coworkers.

One of the surefire signs your coworkers might be intimidated by you is when their body language grows protective. They might be:

  • crossing their arms in your presence
  • turning slightly away
  • failing to maintain appropriate eye contact

To counterbalance it and make people feel comfortable around you, use your own body language.

How to counterbalance

Make sure to occasionally nod your head, ensure your posture is open and interested, as well as encourage the other person to continue with small verbal comments like “yes,” or “uh-huh.”

On top of that, ensure the subtle visual cues you give out project openness. Being conscious that your arms aren’t closed and retaining your eyes locked on the coworker goes a long way in showing you aren’t a bully.

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