How can I be less threatening?

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This topic contains 14 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  Steve Ressler 8 years, 10 months ago.

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  • #167172

    Chris A. Cowan

    A few close co-workers have said that I can be “threatening” to supervisors. I have a lot of experience and education in my field (human and organizational learning) and I’m well aware that people that others may be threatened rather than impressed with my credentials. In general, I try to downplay my pedigree in favor of establishing my expertise through my performance. Yet, it appears that I still come off as threatening. I’m not looking to hear, “well, that’s just their problem” (I kinda already know it is), I’m just looking for some shared experience and some advice.

  • #167200

    Steve Ressler

    Chris – great question.

    Couple ideas:

    1 -Pause and try to let others talk first at meetings. Even if you know the answer, the more you can pause and let others jump in first the better. Pick your battles and know when to jump in

    2 -Personal bonding – Have you got to know these folks outside of meetings/projects? Take folks out for coffee, lunch, happy hour. Talk about football, kids, etc. Find that common bond where you can all relate

    3 -And finally, you may never please everyone. So don’t get too shy or hide too much your credentials. If you are doing #1 and #2 right and still some people not happy, that’s normal and just deal with it. There’s always going to be some gossiping about being an overachiever and honestly thats fine (kind of like the kid getting A’s in class – you don’t have to be super annoying and raise hand all the time but even if you fix it, not everyone will stop hating)

  • #167198

    Clemson G Turregano

    Chris — a terrific and often posed question by people who just ‘know the answer.’ The challenge is that others often do not — they may know the answer in other ways than you, but you can just ‘see’ what needs to be done. One thought is to turn your statements into questions. Instead of telling them what to do, offer (in a nice tone) your thoughts on the issue and then add a twist — turn it into a question. Instead of telling someone what to do, you might say ‘the way I see this issue is like this (describe your thoughts — NOT your impression of theirs) and then the twist — ask ‘is that accurate?’ Or, another way of saying this is ‘…what do YOU think.” After you finish your question, sit back and practice your best active listening skills. After the person gets over their shock of being asked, they are going to have to think for a minute — honor the silence, sit back, and revel in their wisdom. now you have a conversation, not a confrontation — now you have a dialogue and have demonstrated personal accessibility. It is a small tool, but like a good tool, can be used in many different ways.

  • #167196


    I find that getting down to the individual perspective and trying to put myself in the other’s shoes sometimes gives me insight. Mostly just relax and be honest and accept but don’t react is my philosophy 🙂

  • #167194

    Carol Davison

    Chris, people’s assumption in their reality. You need to change that reality and are already working on it by asking this quesiton. Having an MDiv in itself and degrees from Harvard and a GW degree may be intimidating. It may implies that your are holier than thou or smart while and the average person is only merely average. This includes supervisors. I would work on my relationships with people. If people like you its like driving down the street and getting all green lights. If they don’t, they can put up yellow or red lights along your way and stop your progress. Check into having your supervisor or a co worker give you input on your performance and conduct because they see how you play in the game which an outside mentor can not. But get that outside mentor as well. Preferably, some one very smart. Put photos of your girlfriend, dog, friends, interest in your cubicle to show others that you are human just like them. If appropriate have everyone over to your house for a party, organize the Holiday get together or lead the Combined Federal campaign to show your softer side. Be very careful to only say negative things including jokes when you must. This may be very hard because you probably can see when improvement could be made all over the place. Otherwise you could be seen as a know it all. Check to see if your organization has coaches and visit them or hire one for yourself at about $300 per hour.

  • #167192

    Vanessa Vogel

    My advice is short and simple, smile. It goes along way.

  • #167190

    Bill Brantley

    Don’t downplay your pedigree because that can also be seen as false modesty which is as annoying as bragging. In my experience, volunteering to take your turn at the office tasks no one likes to do is a good way to show you are part of the team and are approachable. What puts people off is when someone with advanced credentials acts as if some work is beneath them. People will appreciate your credentials when you are pitching in with the work and using your knowledge/experience for the good of the team.

  • #167188

    Deb Green

    It’s interesting that the term used is “threatening” – as that implies your supervisor(s) may not think you have their interest at heart, but instead your own. Why is that the perception? Is it their insecurity or is it based on something else?

    Here’s something you can do – – Make sure your supervisor knows you have his/her back: Be a good follower. I don’t mean an automaton, but be sure that your boss knows you’re there for the success of the organization, not just yourself. And when you need to deliver the “Boss, I don’t agree,” message, make sure to use an approach that won’t be perceived as threatening. For example, if you disagree with an approach, share your thoughts in private, not at the weekly staff meeting. Also, come with solutions to the table, not just pointing out where something may fail.

    Good luck! You can influence another’s perception of you, but you’ve got to give them a new “reality” to get them to change their minds.

  • #167186

    I’ve felt this way before – and know that I can be a bit brash and aggressive. What I’ve started doing this year is to focus on asking more / better questions, listening more and then encouraging others to stand in the spotlight / report out on projects, etc. I think if you can approach your role in a spirit of serving your leaders, your colleagues and your team, you will more and more come across as someone who is humbly trying to contribute value vs. pressing an agenda or seeking personal advancement…or, at least, that’s my theory. Not sure if it’s valid! 🙂

  • #167184

    Dave Uejio

    Easy! I recommend you put down the light saber, and keep your blaster pointed down range.

    I think the energy you project goes a long way towards diffusing this problem. It’s important to seek win win outcomes, deflect credit, and take bullets. Aside from being great leadership, it’s harder for people to be threatened by you when you are projecting humility routinely.

    While I’m guessing part of the challenge is that you’re wicked smart, it may be exacerbated by the fact that you are really fast – do you routinely get through the analysis process faster than everyone else? If so, I have good news: crisis managers not withstanding, speed is generally inconsequential in government – it’s like Usain Bolt running an (ultra?)marathon. If this is the case, slow down! Routinely ask others questions – asking people with confidence issues or insecurity for their advice signals that you don’t have all the answers and makes them feel valued.

  • #167182

    Robert Bacal

    I’ve actually been in the situation where my boss told me he was afraid of me. He also told me he thought I was “more intelligent than he was”, but here’s the thing. If I had to do it over again, I’d have teased out from him, exactly what it was that I did or said that contributed to his feelings, assuming it wasn’t just “all him”.

    I think it’s fine that others here offer advice, but without knowing what YOUR supervisors might think, and what YOU are like, any advice besides communicating with those that might feel threatened is just as likely to mess things up.

  • #167180

    Dennis Snyder

    This is paraphrased from a Linkdn post this morning:

    • How am I visible to others when I don’t want to be? (Avoid an isolationist environment of secrecy and distrust)

    • Leadership is a “whole-body practice” and requires preparation of the whole person. (Most leaders face complex challenges, relentless claims on their time, and increasing pressures to deliver on goals over which they don’t have direct control. Be mindful of randomly lashing out at those who could help, keep your head above water)

    • How do I display that I am comfortable with the responsibilities and demands of leadership? (Let go of the minutia, don’t play the blame game, focus on the big issues, and be a Leader)

    • What one thing can I tell myself as a reminder to listen more? (Find an effective cue)

    • When necessary, how do I lower the volume of my leadership presence? (As a leader it’s not all about you, so don’t strut like a dictator. The clearest way to demonstrate this is to find the right moments to step out of the spotlight so that other people get the attention they need to avoid disillusionment.)

  • #167178

    Thomas Abraham

    Well Chris, I saw your post and wanted to reflect a bit before responding. There are some great responses on this thread. You asked for shared experience, so I have some. This is the short answer without sharing a particular context. What I do when I have felt that is do my job with excellence, no matter how mundane. I have been called “the robot” by some of my colleagues, even my manager. I tend to do the same thing in a certain way over and over again. It’s a way for me to continue to put out excellence. For example, all my e-mails internally when they go to my colleagues, it starts with “Good Morning/Afternoon Mr/Ms ________” I end with “Have a good day.” I hold that pattern with all correspondence. This may seem like I am not answering your question, but maybe I need to take you back some years when I trained in the Martial Arts.

    Many years ago I trained with a old school Chinese teacher in Kung Fu. My Sifu was Wai Ming Chau and he was the 7th Generation Grandmaster of Wu Mui. You could say, I represent the 8th Generation of his students. One of the things I learned from Sifu Chau was that the real powerful masters do not advertise, rather they let their reputation speak on their behalf. There were times when a person would come into the school and see Sifu dressed up in his Khakis and a T-shirt thinking he was the maintenance guy or the cleaning person, not knowing his true value. What I am saying is, Chris, people will always judge you. One way or the other, but the one thing that can speak volumes on your behalf is how you do things.

    I can give you an example, if that’s what you want. I remember I was asked to tape up some brochures in the waiting room and offices that would be used by the public. I taped those brochures up very carefully. so they looked very professional. Did I tell my colleagues that it was me that did that? No, because the point was to do it with excellence. Somehow, Chris, for me, a commitment to excellence, I found, has a cumulative effect. My experience has been, if people are really curious they could look to see where the trail of excellence leads back to, upon which they would find ME.

    My recommendation is to do your work to the best of your ability, even the simple things and do it with excellence.



  • #167176

    Bill Brantley

    Even though the Awesome button doesn’t work for comments, I still would like to “Awesome” your reply. 🙂

  • #167174

    Steve, I think the personal bonding suggestion is key. It makes anyone seem more human and approachable.

    I often find I need to make friends with people at work first and then show them what I am really capable of doing. Most people will then help me with whatever I ask for because they like me, even if they are intimidated by my credentials (i.e., being a barred attorney).

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