When you’re working in an environment where every coworker likes and admires you, even the most mundane tasks seem easy. You know your colleagues have your back, and irrespective of the department, the collaborative spirit never waivers. However, when your work culture constitutes fear, negativity, and dislike – it diminishes your productivity levels.
Contrary to popular belief, this culture of dislike and intimidation doesn’t manifest itself in the most obvious ways. Coworkers choose to remain silent and distant. Confrontations are avoided at every opportunity, and the build-up of pressure only makes life miserable for all parties involved.
If these negative behavioral patterns aren’t recognized and addressed on time, coworkers will feel they can get away with almost anything. However, there are also instances where workers overthink these situations. They focus on reading between the lines so much that they fail to read the actual lines.
Are your coworkers really intimidated by you, or are you unnecessarily overthinking?
Here are some subtle but clear hints that you need to assess in order to find out the truth –
1. They Lose Their Sense of Happiness When They’re Around You
When there’s a “black sheep” in a group, anytime, he or she enters the room, the whole energy of the room changes. If your workforce doesn’t have such a character, you might be that black sheep. Notice how your coworkers react when you enter the room.
Were they discussing something and suddenly stopped talking as you entered the room? Did the group flee just as soon as you entered the scene? If that is the case, there may be some unaddressed issues brewing that you may not be aware of.
2. Lack of Communication
Be it a generic question like, “How is your family?” or basic eye contact, both verbal and non-verbal communication attempts are good indicators of a growing relationship. When these signs aren’t present in your relationship with your coworkers, it’s probably because they’re slightly intimidated by your presence.
3. Odd Body Language
It may be difficult for you to notice whether your coworkers are making eye contact with you. But, if you look closely, coworkers that you suspect are intimidated by you say a lot just by their body language. Some negative body languages that you need to focus on are –
- They turn their faces and their bodies away from you whenever you initiate a conversation.
- When they speak with you, their arms are crossed, almost as if there’s an invisible protective shield safeguarding them from your words.
- They fidget when you’re around.
- They maintain clear physical distances when they’re speaking with you.
- You catch them staring at you, but when you ask them something, they simply brush things away.
These are some clear signs of fear and intimidation. If a lot of coworkers are exhibiting these indirect signs towards you, it’s clear that your presence irks them in some way.
4. Verbal Signals
There are also some clear verbal signals that intimidated coworkers pass when they’re speaking with you. For example, an intimidated coworker will have no qualms about throwing you under the bus at group meetings. Workers who can’t read between the lines are often shocked when someone throws them under the bus.
However, people who can’t read the room often have such “betrayals” coming their way. So, picking up clear verbal signs is very important –
- They exclude you from group meetings or personal get-togethers.
- They get easily irritated or overly defensive when you try to speak with them.
- They never prioritize your work-related requests.
- They become quieter than usual around you.
- They exit conversations mid-way.
If your coworkers are exhibiting these verbal signs, they’re most likely intimidated by your presence.
5. The Lingering Sense of Loneliness
Unless the people who’ve designed your office are geniuses at creating secluded workspaces, you’re likely to run into coworkers from time to time. If you aren’t – it could be because they find you intimidating. If no one interrupts you while you’re walking past some cubicles to get coffee, it’s not because they’re concerned about not disturbing your focus – you’re getting ignored because, for them, that’s the best way to deal with you.
- Your colleagues may speak with others in the office when they require assistance and avoid you not because they hate you or because your guidance isn’t helpful – they are simply intimidated by your presence. When people are constantly subjected to such behaviors, it’s normal to feel angry, depressed, and helpless.
- “If they hate me for no reason, I better give them some reasons” – if you’ve had such feelings before, it’s completely normal. Studies show that feelings of loneliness increase the amount of cortisol (stress hormones) in our bodies. This sudden increase in stress hormones impairs our judgment and our health.
- More than 40% of American adults reported feeling lonely in 2010. Since then, the number has only gone up. A more recent study shows that loneliness has grown with every passing generation.
- Workers who feel lonely are likelier to take 50% more sick days. They’re also likelier to commit less to work-related causes. Even worse, these emotions are contagious. When left unaddressed, negative emotions like intimidation or loneliness spread to other members of the workforce, causing a ripple effect throughout the company.
- A recent meta-analysis by the UK’s Chartered Institute for Professional Development revealed that over 55% of professionals want to work in companies that operate like “families.” But, only 25% of the UK’s workforce stated that they currently work at such “family feel” companies.
If you are unknowingly intimidating your coworkers, it must be an alienating and upsetting experience for you. Your coworkers are probably feeling the same way. That’s because these problems aren’t just interpersonal issues between a select set of employees. More often than usual, it’s an organizational problem with multiple layers of complexity.
Salvaging the Situation – What Can You Do?
There are many effective ways to salvage workplace relationships. Every professional deserves to feel safe and respected at the workplace. There’s no justification for intimidation, even if it’s unintentional. So, attempting to put your colleagues at ease is the kindest and the best solution in such situations. The best way to come off as non-intimidating is to humanize yourself.
- Be a learner and a listener – show that you don’t know everything and don’t be afraid to ask questions to your coworkers.
- Participate in small acts of kindness every day you visit the office. Be it graciously smiling at the colleague who doesn’t like you or taking on additional after-hours tasks – acts of kindness and expressions of gratitude are two of the best tools for anyone who wants to create harmonious relationships in the workplace.
- Reveal different aspects of your personality. If you’re a go-getter at work, don’t refrain from being a completely different person in off-hours.
- Admit your mistakes; be truthful when you’re pointing out a coworker’s mistakes. But, also be humble about the mistakes you may have made in the past.
- Always maintain good eye contact with your coworkers. Exhibit positive body language and signs. Simple efforts like acting interested in what your coworker has to say or smiling at them (even if you don’t feel like doing those things) make huge differences.
- Express genuine gratitude when coworkers help you out with work-related tasks. Ask how you can repay the favor.
- Congratulate your coworkers on their accomplishments.
If these actions don’t work, then it’s time to be firm and set clear boundaries. Humanizing yourself is good. But doing so just to face further mistreatment isn’t. In some instances, saying “I don’t appreciate the way you treat me” is better than trying to finesse fake relationships.
For example, if a coworker deliberately wants to put you down and all of your efforts to humanize yourself to him/her have failed, it’s better to protect yourself from such destructive behavior and directly put a stop to how they’re behaving. However, the first step should always be putting effort into your workplace relationships, which can be a tiresome chore for many.