How I approach intimidating people

I took a sneak photo of this HUGE guy with my phone on the subway the other day. He’s easily 6’10 (210 cm) and he looks so imposing that I had to take a photo for you.

intimidating peopleI actually know a guy equally intimidating. We can call him Josh. Tall, controlled facial expressions, good looking, and well dressed. He came off as both intimidating and unapproachable.

A few years ago, I’d try to play it cool and wait for them to show friendliness before I dared to be friendly, too.

Now, I know how that road just leads to a stalled relationship (fueled by my fear to be rejected).

Another mistake I did, later on, was trying to get their approval. I tried being overly positive and happy towards them. Subconsciously, I approached them like I was their fan rather than their equal.

That just made me come off as needy.

We need a different approach…

Here’s how I approach intimidating people today

From the get-go, I smile warmly and make myself approachable. I “dare” to be the one to smile first.

As it turned out with my intimidating friend Josh, his distant personality was just his shield against the world.

Most people walk around with a mask to protect themselves against potential rejection from others.

Another example is a friend of mine in Sweden. She’s an extremely successful businesswoman, beautiful, hard-working, and intelligent. At first impression, I was quite intimidated by her. But once I got to know her, it turned out she was a sensitive and caring person. She just puts on her mask to protect that vulnerable part of herself.

Isn’t life funny – We put on our own masks to protect ourselves from others masks.

how to approach intimidating people

The one who dares to put down their mask first wins in life.

Here’s how you can do it in practice:

  1. Ask a sincere question to get to know who they really are

“What’s your favorite part of working as a lawyer?”

  1. When it feels natural, give them a sincere compliment.

“It was exciting to hear about your new business. I hope it goes well”

(You see, insecure people almost never compliment others. They’re too busy worrying about how THEY come off.)

Lesson learned:

Being sincere and friendly, without being needy, is the best way to de-mask intimidating people.

Read more here: 7 mindsets to deal with an intimidating person.

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

David Morin is the founder of SocialSelf. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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  1. Makes a lot of sense honestly. I can see myself in your previous response and coming off needy!

    Thank you for this very informative message.

  2. David when I start talking with people who intimating me but friendly I feel awkward and don’t know on what to talk or say to them I feel awkward and I said it to them I don’t know what to say so can you help me?

  3. Interesting approach but very much depends on the situation. Often people are unapproachable because they value themselves higher than you. Smiling and asking questions like “what do you like about…” May make you look even lower as they perfectly know what you are doing and why.

  4. Thank you for this lesson! Yesterday I ran into this same situation. I was filling in on another team at work and in comes a girl who looked very intimidating and I dared not introduce myself. It felt very awakward working next to someone without saying a word. I kept telling myself that I’ll wait for her to introduce herself first to see if she’s approachable. 30 minutes later as I was leaving I realized that she had a soft tone and was more on the shyer side. It got me thinking that many people probably see me as unapproachable as well when I am reserved and waiting for someone to make the first move.

  5. Thanks for this! I usually have trouble starting conversations with such people and ultimately sustaining them… now I know where and how to begin..I will try this..Thank you David… I have really greatly improved socially…

  6. That’s a good point. Being our true selves requires us to be vulnerable. Have been in such situation. Just try to be myself without changing the way I speak or avoid my weaknesses. Then it felt like we ever met before.

    • yes it is okay, but i still meet people who likes intimidate others, usually for the first time, if we loss control he will play all the time. I do not know how deal with kind of people.

  7. Actually, I do that automatically. Be a comedian…people love humor. “What’s your story?” I often ask people I first meet.

  8. Though I have asked intimidating people the kind of sincere question you have mentioned, I don’t really ever get to a place where I bond with them on a deeper level. To clarify, I do bond pretty deeply with people that are very friendly and highly empathetic from the start with me. I’m trying to figure out with my therapist why this discrepancy persists. Also, what do you do if an intimidating person doesn’t give off a friendly vibe in reply? That’s when the conversation beings to end for me.

  9. Thanks a lot for this was really helpful.But how do you break into genuie and sincere conversations with some group of close friends?

  10. I mostly agree with everything you say here, and at 74 years of age, I guess I’ve had a lifetime of experience. I only disagree with you on one point: “Intimidating people” will respond as you describe, but only IF they’re not shmucks–and let’s face it, plenty of big names are shmucks; e.g., Harvey Weinstein, Donald Shtrump, etc. (If you don’t know what “shmuck” means, David, ask one of your new NYC friends.)

    Thanks for all your excellent thoughts!

  11. Spot on email in my opinion. What I will say next might be more relevant for folks on this site than the general population, for a few obvious reasons.

    I think we need to make sure our actions also are not fueled by insecurity, as we have seen others do this. Look up “Maslow’s heirarchy of needs” and try to have all actions align with your interpretation of the meaning of life, the top of the pyramid. A lot of people have this down, but I remember when I first signed up for this email list I was insecure of what people thought of me, or how I could gain esteem by being popular. This was wrong for me. You will be more confident when your actions stem from deep beliefs about the meaning of life.

    Hopefully this helps at least one person.

    • Thank you Derek!

      It’s really interesting to hear about this shift in you, from trying to gain esteem by being popular to something deeper. I would love to hear more about it, what changed? What made you change? Any special insight or situation?


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