You say someone is trying to intimidate you when you feel cornered or forced to do something you don’t want to do.
It’s not the same as feeling intimidated by someone. You feel intimidated by someone when you consider this person better than you. Most probably they didn’t do anything to make you feel this way.
It’s a different story when someone tries to intimidate you. This person is crossing the line with you and putting pressure on you to do their bidding. When you feel the pressure of being intimidated, you will feel uncomfortable and your body language will change to submission. Once you succumb to the pressure, you will be in compliance mode.
The earlier you identify that someone is trying to intimidate you, the better. You can take action to stop them from trying to intimidate you and make yourself feel better. In case you have already succumbed to being intimidated and started complying, you can take steps to bring this down or even eliminate it.
It’s easier to identify when you’re intimidated verbally by the words used and the tone of the voice. For instance, yelling, shaming, blaming, and bullying. Aggressive gestures and body movements are also good indicators of someone trying to intimidate you.
However, it’s more difficult to recognize when you’re intimidated by non-verbal tactics. This article will help you identify signs someone is trying to intimidate you non-verbally.
Signs someone is trying to intimidate you
1. Predatory stare
If you have experienced this, you will know exactly how it will make you feel – like a trapped animal. This is also referred to as a psychopathic stare. It involves prolonged eye contact and a fixed stare that will make you feel uncomfortable and even scared. Even when you are not looking at the person, you will feel their eyes on you. When you look up, you invariably catch them staring intensely at you.
This is the stare a predator uses to assess or judge its prey. There is a challenge involved in this stare.
“I will look at you as much as I want. Try stopping me.”
“I know I am making you uncomfortable by staring at you. Let me see what you will do.”
When faced with prolonged eye contact, most people will look away unable to tolerate it. They feel threatened and nervous. They start feeling so uncomfortable that all they want is to escape. They may even look around them to check for physical threats.
Looking away is considered a sign of submission or surrender.
On the other hand, you can return the stare with equal or more intensity. If you can hold this stare for long enough, you can force the person trying to intimidate you to look away. With this, you are saying, “I can intimidate you too.”
If the staring match continues for long, you can look away without losing out if you are shifting your gaze to something important such as a friend. You are saying, “This is more important to me.”
2. Evading eye contact
Refusing to look you in the eyes is equally effective as prolonged eye contact to intimidate someone. Though eye contact is avoided on different occasions for different reasons, it is a powerful tool for someone who wants to dominate you and force you into submission.
Avoiding eye contact is a technique to intimidate you when they are aloof, cold, and act arrogantly. They are saying, “You’re inconsequential and beneath me. I want to have nothing to do with you.”
When someone avoids eye contact with you deliberately, you may feel upset. You want to talk to them but they are unwilling to engage with you. Then, you feel the compulsion to interact with them. When you are the one trying to establish relations, you are considered submissive. If they reciprocate, it’s not as bad for you. But if they continue to ignore you, it will look really bad for you.
If you don’t want to demean yourself, you should do the same. When someone tries to intimidate you by avoiding eye contact, you should ignore them and not make any eye contact with them.
3. Occupying more or coveted space
Conventionally, it is the most important person in the room who takes up the best and most prominent spot. Such as the head of the table. Or an ornate or bigger-sized chair for the chief guest at an event. When someone sits on the best chair available or takes up more space than others, they are conveying their superiority and dominance.
They are saying, “I am the boss here.”
The typical submissive reaction to this is to withdraw further and allow them more space. By doing this, you are acknowledging their superiority and letting them dominate you. You are accepting your inferior status.
You need not be submissive when faced with such a situation. You can always leave the room and deny them the opportunity to intimidate you.
4. Erect posture
Standing up straight or erect is a body language that indicates superiority. This is common among models and bodybuilders. You won’t see them with hunched shoulders and heads hung low. They are trying to convey how proud they are of themselves and want to intimidate you with their superiority.
Looking at them in awe is the most common submissive reaction. With this, you are validating their superior status. Your slouched stance is another one. You are accepting them as better.
Ignoring and acting unimpressed can be your best reaction to combat the situation. You can do a lot of damage by mocking or laughing at them. Imitating their posture and walking like them can bring them down but you need to be ready for their counterreaction.
However, standing up straight is a positive way to assert yourself in any crowd.
5. Forcing you to move out of their way
When someone wants to intimidate you, something they would do is bulldoze their way ahead. This means, even if you are standing in their way, they will continue to move forward, forcing you to move out of their way.
This stems from the centuries-old convention of the people with low status making way for those with high status. The same thing happens even today when a politician or a celebrity moves through the crowd. The crowd is expected to move and make way for them.
When this person moves towards you even after entering your personal space, it is your natural reaction to move out of the way. You know that if you don’t move, they will crash into you. They are so sure that you will move away to avoid a collision. They are saying, “How dare you get in my way?”
If you do not want to be submissive, stand your ground, literally and figuratively. This may lead to a confrontation. Or else, you can move away slowly, taking your own sweet time for this.
6. Blank expression
When someone maintains no facial expression in your presence, it is an emotional disengagement and intimidation tactic. They are saying, “You’re too low for me to interact with you.”
If you feel submissive, you will make the extra effort to reach out to them and make the relationship work. You will be ready to do anything to make them connect with you emotionally. Or else, you may get upset. You would either sulk or throw a fit.
If you don’t want to be submissive, you will not make any extra effort to placate or engage with them. As long as you have done nothing wrong, you don’t need to be apologetic or submissive.
7. Flaunting and showing off
Understandably, everyone wants to be admired, valued, and respected. In the ideal world, admiration and respect are earned. It is something others give you without demanding them. When a person wants to be respected but is not getting it, they may intimidate people to give them respect.
They flaunt their superior status and show off their wealth in an attempt to intimidate you to admire and respect them. They want to impress upon you that they are better than you. If you continue to ignore them, such people will up their ante and try to intimidate you harder. They are saying, “I’ve worked hard and I deserve respect.” or “I’ve it and so I’m flaunting it.”
When someone shows off, others may not be impressed. Instead, they look down upon the person for showing off. This can worsen the situation.
A submissive person may succumb to being intimidated this way and show admiration and respect without actually feeling it. Or showing unhappiness is another way of acknowledging their superiority. It is admitting that their show-off had some effect on you.
If you want to resist being intimidated, the ideal way is to ignore them and downplay their achievements. Before you go down this road, make sure that they are actually trying to intimidate you and not just you feeling intimidated by their success.
Verbal communication is commonly used to intimidate people and is an integral part of toxic relationships and workplace bullying. Reluctance to speak first, trying to have the last word, constant interruptions, controlling the subject of the conversation, and hogging the conversation are all meant to intimidate the listener.
When you allow the person to have their way, you are being submissive. On the other hand, when you stand the ground and take back control, you’re asserting your superiority. However, this may lead to discussions, debates, arguments, and even fights. The other choices you have are to go silent and let the person continue their monologue or leave the conversation and walk away.
When someone is trying to intimidate you, disengagement is the most powerful arrow in your quiver. This way you can win without a fight.