Finding Self-Confidence When Intimidating Types Get to You
When you’re feeling rattled by big wigs and VIPs, simple mindset and body language adjustments can help you step into power.
Today’s guest post is by Selena Rezvani, author of Quick Confidence: Be Authentic, Create Connections and Make Bold Bets On Yourself (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
Have you ever had one of those career moments where you felt like you’d made it? A moment of proof that you’d finally earned a spot at the cool or important table?
I remember mine vividly.
I was invited to a leadership awards event to accept an honor alongside many strong businesswomen I admired and respected. Of course, I was a bit nervous about entering a room with so many powerhouses, but it was like a day-before-Christmas type of anxiety. The thought of getting to know people who inspire me electrified me.
I perseverated over my outfit for days in advance. I finally settled on a modern red skirt, colorful blouse and black blazer, hoping they would make me stand out without drawing too much attention. Here I go.
With a big smile and bright eyes, I approached a group and introduced myself. The trio gave me an icy welcome, turning their feet away from me. I was a little disappointed to realize they weren’t accepting ‘newbies’ into their group. But I shrugged it off. A warmup! I told myself.
Until it happened again and again. One cold shoulder after another. I’ll never forget when one pair I tried to speak to said – kind of miffed – “Would you mind if we go back to talking to each other?”
Ouch. I felt like any drop of belonging had drained from my body. Was I invited here by mistake? I occupied myself with a plate of food that I ate while standing in the corner, making weird, furtive eye contact with passersby, wondering how I would endure two more hours of this.
Finally, I decided to take a timeout. I retreated to the bathroom sinks and as I stood in front of the mirror, reapplying my lipstick, I felt intensely disappointed.
Just as I started putting my lipstick back in my purse, though, I caught the smiling face of my mom on an old 2×3 picture sticking out of my wallet. Immediately, a flicker of confidence bolted through me. I thought about everything my mom had instilled in me over the years and her own life experiences with belonging – particularly as a Caucasian woman married to a Pakistani man in the 60s and 70s. I thought about the quote she constantly repeated to me growing up: Eleanor Roosevelt’s “No one can insult you without your permission.” I was standing up about three inches taller now. I looked myself in the eye, and smiled. My confidence grew a little.
At that moment, I decided I wasn’t going to let this feeling slip away again. Instead, I would celebrate what my momma gave me and stand firmly in this opportunity…even if I couldn’t make a friend to save my life.
And there was something else: I was not going to outsource the answer to the question “Do I belong here?” to these people I didn’t even know. I earned my place as much as they did. I needed to change the momentum.
Although I’m not as green as I was at that leadership event – in fact I’ve since written three books and trained audiences on confidence, self-advocacy and presence around the world, I can still feel intimidated when meeting people who seem above and beyond me in every way. I rely on the following exercises (including ones I used at that event) to help me stand firmly in my confidence whenever I feel it slipping away.
Imagine everyone’s awkward
Or at the very least, assume we all have the ability to be uncool, odd, and socially inept at times. Think about it: at a given networking event, someone is oversharing, another person is being a downer, and someone else is drawing attention to something their colleague doesn’t appreciate. That means you’re not the only one who may not be a shoe in or “natural” at socializing all the time. Consider that everyone is doing their awkward best and it can help take the focus off your perceived misfit status.
When you feel like you don’t belong, it’s incredibly easy to express that with your body, which in my own experience, can make you feel worse. In my uncomfortable moment, I found myself low-talking, avoiding eye contact and shrinking my shoulders.
It wasn’t until after my lipstick moment that I tried doing the opposite. I stood straight with my shoulders back, held my head tall, and planted my feet shoulder width apart. For the occasional person I did speak to at the rest of the event, I turned my whole body toward them, kept engaged eye contact when talking and listening, and spoke clearly and audibly (a 7/10 volume). My advice to others when you’re feeling intimidated or out of place is: don’t shrink or mute yourself. Instead, be unapologetically conspicuous! Claim your space so people can’t overlook you and just as important, so you don’t discount yourself.
Interact with the person, not the power
Getting ready to meet “the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at a Fortune 500 company” sounds a lot more intimidating than meeting “Jillian, who works in Marketing.” Focusing on that title can cause you to feel like someone is above you – and it can really damage your confidence. Instead of getting lost in the status level, focus on the living, breathing person in front of you. Be curious about the person, ask them about their weekend, and get to know the human being.
Try “Just Like Me”
Some powerhouses walk into a room ready to intimidate everyone they meet. But some people who seem to have a wall up are oblivious as to how they come off. Whichever the case, to shift a VIP from “intimidator” to regular person in your mind, think about some of the same difficult or vulnerable emotions they feel, just like you. For example, you could say, “This person has felt hopeful/useless/lonely/scared … just like me” or “This person has woken up groggy and wishing for ten more minutes of sleep… just like me” or “This person has needed to summon courage … just like me.” Doing this can recalibrate your intimidation and make the biggest big wig in your life a regular person again.
Does it prickle to feel like an outsider or unknown at times? Yes. Does it sting when people send signals that you don’t belong? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean every opportunity or situation should be discarded because of their reactions.
When intimidated by a power player or a group that’s less than welcoming, focusing on affirming and backing yourself can be everything. Not only will you be more sensitive to other newcomers when they come to your next event, you’ll claim the place that you rightly deserve.
Selena Rezvani is the author of the new book, Quick Confidence: Be Authentic, Create Connections and Make Bold Bets On Yourself (Wiley; May 9, 2023).
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