Leaders: Are You Intimidating Your Coworkers?

19 March 2021 By Joyce E. A. Russell


​It’s been a tough year. We are doing more than ever before and feeling increasingly tense. This means we have to be extra careful not to be overly harsh or short-tempered with those around us. With the greater stressors from the pandemic, the political climate, racial injustices, and the rise in hate speech and actions, it’s hard not to be affected by all of this. It’s easy to take it out on those around us especially since it seems more people are getting away with being brusque, rude, and less kind than they used to be. 

As leaders, this is exactly the time when we must be extra vigilant as to how we are coming across, especially to our coworkers. Sometimes our tone and style to them may come across as if they are here solely for our needs; as if they are at our beck and call. Even if they do report to us, we still shouldn’t be treating them in a discourteous way. That’s just bad leadership. Despite the “cold, gruff culture” we may be living in, we still can take the high road and serve as role models.

How can you ensure you aren’t intimidating those around you and unnecessarily adding to their stress?

First, determine if you are intimidating those around you. It’s not as simple as asking people since they may not tell you to your face. Look at their body language. For example, they may avoid eye contact or use guarded body language around you (e.g., crossing their arms in front of you). Perhaps they speak quietly around you or fidget or stand back from you to avoid getting too close. They may even avoid going into your office even if you have an open door policy or they may apologize more around you than around others which could indicate they are tentative or fearful of expressing their own views around you. 

So, if you think you might be seen as daunting or threatening to others, you can:

·     Ask a trusted colleague for feedback to see how you are coming across. You may think you are just being concise, but are you? Is your tone short and off-putting?

·     When they give you feedback – LISTEN to it. We have the tendency to work on our rebuttals once they start talking rather than simply listening to the feedback.  Ask questions  (e.g.,  “can you help me understand”) to truly understand their feedback so you know what you need to do.

·     Without seeing people in person, our meetings on zoom or teams or other platforms may have become more efficient, but is that always the goal? Shouldn't we still build in some time to connect with people, to share something personal like we would do in person? Some think this is a colossal waste of time, but it really isn’t. It’s actually important. People work well with those they like and trust and those they can connect to.

. Check your emails and correspondence. Your emails and other correspondence can easily be misinterpreted so compose them as if you were talking to the person. We often forget to do that, and instead, they can come across as extremely bossy or terse. Get someone else to give you feedback on your emails and do it today. Your views and their perceptions can be very different. Listen to this feedback to make the necessary changes.

·     Humility and servant leadership are key. Are you focusing on the larger organizational goals as a leader or your own personal goals and ways to increase your own power? Power itself is not bad, and in fact, it’s important for leaders to have the ability to influence others. However, putting the organization or clients first can enable you to avoid getting caught up in power grabs for personal gain.

·     Ask them how you can better serve them and support their goals and interests.

·     Spend more time celebrating their accomplishments, expressing gratitude for what they are doing, and then letting others know about what they are doing that helps the firm.

·     Use more open and positive body language with them – eye contact, smiling, and open body posture to show you are open to their ideas.

·     Apologize when you have made mistakes or taken them for granted or treated them poorly. Even if you don’t think you did, but they think this, their perception is very important.

·     Be human and vulnerable around them. It’s okay for them to see the human and non-perfect side of you.

·     Be welcoming and inclusive to all of your team. Think about whom you are spending time with at work. Is it the same small set of people or have you reached out to others to check on them to make sure they are also doing okay during these difficult times?

·     These lessons are important at home too. A prominent CEO I did a fireside chat with said his mother told him that when he came home each night, he was not a CEO, but rather, a father, a husband, a friend, and a son. In other words, as his family was pointing out, he wasn’t supposed to come home and “boss everyone around” like he might try to do at work.

Everyone has been subject to a lot of stress over the past year, and leaders certainly have gotten their share of it as they worry about their firms, people, and the survival of their businesses. It can be easy to be abrupt to our coworkers and staff to make sure they are as efficient as possible. Yet, is that the best way to create a collegial place of work with high morale, engagement, and productivity? We should all take the time to help our workplaces become the places everyone enjoys working at, not just some.

Source: Forbes