15 Signs Your Coworkers are Intimidated by You

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A flexible boss and supportive colleagues help make work a positive experience. So discovering your fellow employees are intimidated by you can make things a bit awkward, right? After all, you’ve got to coexist in the same space and work on projects together.

It’s not your fault. Yet, you suddenly find yourself on the defense. I’ve faced this predicament before. Trust me, there are ways to handle this obstacle, which I will talk about later… but first, let’s try and understand why they feel insecure.

Why Would A Coworker Be Intimidated By Me?

A workmate may feel insecure around you for multiple reasons. As you go over each sign, you may begin to connect the dots as far as how they relate to you. The signs are manifestations of how your peer feels about you and themselves.

Have you noticed them acting funny since your boss designated you the team leader? That can spell jealousy or envy. Feeling green-eyed is natural when a coworker internalizes the promotion as preferential treatment or rejection.

“Who does he think he is?” or “Why her and not me?” are some questions they’ll ask themselves or colleagues. They might even flaunt their skills or academic achievements to appear better qualified.

In other cases, feeling threatened can come from their own competitiveness or longing to always be seen as the best employee. Limited job titles and roles within the company can also trigger competition among employees for these scarce resources.

Low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence are other reasons. The individual may feel awkward, inadequate, or incompetent around people they perceive are better than them. Feelings of inferiority also spark jealousy.

15 Signs Coworkers are Intimidated by You

We thrive at work when team members are co-existing in harmony. Fellow associates acting fearful or hesitant to work along with you can create a disconnect or interfere with productivity.

Understanding that competitiveness and unwarranted envy are normal within social groups will help you to not take things personally. The awareness can protect you from emotional stress and anxiety or a drop in job performance.

Try not to internalize the following speech, tone of voice, or body language signs of intimidation as something being wrong with you. You aren’t responsible for how others view your personality or process their social experiences.

1. Fails to introduce themselves

It’s been several months since you joined the company and all, but one or two colleagues, are yet to welcome you. You only know them by name because other coworkers mentioned it. That’s when you realize something’s not right. Why is this person bent on remaining a stranger to you? You can’t help but feel disappointed.

That’s how people in the workplace act when they view you as a danger, whether to their position or power within the company. In their minds, there’s no need to get to know you. You’re just a newcomer who’s intruding on their turf.

Thinking you came along to spoil things often stems from possessiveness over their position. A sense of entitlement can also contribute to ill feelings towards you although you’ve done nothing to deserve this.

2. Acts “stiff” around you

People’s body language can say as much or even more than words. A serious face, stiffened body, or crossed-arm presentation by our teammate John is a non-verbal way of saying, “I’m not comfortable around you.” A stiff demeanor can also be a cry for attention. John might long to feel seen, heard, or validated by you.

According to Science of People, crossed arms indicate anger, defensiveness from feeling threatened, or anxiety. It just depends on the situation. Regardless, you might agree that encountering defensive body language can cause a sucky feeling, especially if everyone else enjoys interacting with you.

I experienced a similar situation while working at a New York City law firm. I decided to use humor around my colleague to gently disarm her. With time, she loosened up and started seeing me as a friend rather than a foe.

3. Persistently avoiding you

Another sign you’re unintentionally intimidating people at work is avoidance. A colleague who feels threatened by you will avoid you like the plague. They’ll hurry out of the coffee room at the same speed they entered as soon as they lay eyes on you. If it’s you that comes in, they’ll exit right away, leaving their coffee brewing behind.

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At meetings, colleagues intimidated by you will sit as far away as possible to maintain their distance. Day-to-day physical contact will be sparse, and they’ll only approach you if it’s necessary and job-related. Even though you might find all of it hilarious, their attitudes can start affecting personal or team productivity.

4. Avoids making eye contact

Someone who feels inferior to you at work won’t care to look you in the eye. Pay attention and you’ll notice they’re looking down, above your head, or elsewhere. Not making eye contact is one way of avoiding a connection. People will also avoid or give you minimum eye contact to manage feeling vulnerable in your presence.

Check their feet positioning as well. Are they pointing outward or toward the nearest door? In psychology, it indicates wanting to leave. “Are we done yet?” Best Selling Author, Vanessa Van Edwards, calls it “disinterested feet” in her article, ” Feet Behavior: The Untapped Body Language You Should Know.”

5. Changes their facial expressions

Note the look on your colleague, Nancy’s, face whenever you enter the room. Does she switch from a smiling to a disgusted facial expression? What about when you’re speaking during a group chat? Does Nancy appear impatient and uninterested?

These are signs your coworker wants you to shut up already. Don’t be surprised if she interrupts you while speaking or storms out instantaneously. She might do these things to try and upset you and feel less threatened by you.

I know it’s not fair, but you cannot control someone else’s attitude towards you, only your reaction.

6. Appears nervous around you

People tend to act nervous around anyone they perceive as superior to them. Think of the times you interacted with a lawyer, doctor, or someone else who society holds in high honor. Do you remember feeling those jitters, also called nervousness?

Nervousness is a symptom of anxiety and we all feel it in different situations. It shows up when the body’s fight-or-flight system is activated. Someone who sees you as above them may shake visibly, sweat, stutter, or appear at a loss for words. Now, this may sound a bit dramatic, but it’s true.

You can’t help but empathize, because you know you’re not walking around feeling superior to your fellow employees.

7. Undermines your work

Your threatened work peer can do a multitude of things to sabotage your work. This can play out in a case where you’re managing a group. He may consistently criticize your opinion or suggestions, withhold feedback, or turn in team projects late. These actions may be intended to make you look incompetent in the eyes of your boss and fellow workers.

It’s normal to feel a sense of betrayal when a team member does this in an attempt to undermine your success. As the team leader, you may be authorized to call out negative work attitudes or give warnings for repeated actions that cross the line. If you do, keep in mind this may be the individual’s passive way of showing you intimidate them.

8. Micromanages you

Another one of the signs coworkers are intimidated by you is attempting to micromanage you. If the insecure employee is placed in a supervisory position, she may scrutinize everything you do or say with a fine-toothed comb. Nitpicking and interfering can adversely impact your work performance, and guess who’s doing your performance report? The supervisor who’s constantly breathing down your neck!

It’s unfair for an envious controlling coworker to single you out for this type of treatment. It’s also unfair because you’re a model employee and everyone knows it. She may block a potential promotion or even get you fired for incompetence if you don’t speak up or explain how micromanaging is affecting you.

9. Communication is short

Short and terse are words that describe the way your intimidated workmate, Jim, communicates with you. It doesn’t matter if it’s face-to-face or by email. The approach is the same. You say a mouthful and he’ll respond as if words are scarce. “Yes.” “No.” “Maybe so.” “Okay.” “Great.” You get the point. He might use a condescending tone sometimes.

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Granted, some people are shy by nature. However, you’ve seen how talkative and friendly the guy is with everyone else. You can’t help wondering what’s up with that. It could be an inferiority complex that causes him to close up when it’s time to interact with you.

10. Never Challenges You

Normally, team members pitch in with feedback, suggestions, queries, and counter-proposals. Collaborating provides broader perspectives, promotes effective decision-making, and reduces the chance for errors. Brainstorming together is vital if you’re employed by a large corporation and your teammates have roles in different departments.

However, your peers who see you as well-qualified, smart, and efficient will let all your ideas go through without objection. They may feel they’re not in a position to question your ideas, proposals, and performance.

11. Plenty of apologies

People who hold you in high esteem are likely to feel timid in your presence. They’ll want to have the right words, ideas, and mannerisms when interacting with you. They might even mirror you or appear submissive. These efforts are intended to avoid screwing up, so you don’t think less of them.

However, trying to be perfect for you can trigger anxiety, causing them to trip over their words or make mistakes. You’ll hear frequent apologies as a result, as your coworkers try hard to look good in your eyes.

12. They don’t take advantage of your open-door policy

Your office door stays open and you inform everyone that they’re free to walk in anytime. Workplace open-door policy is designed to encourage open communication and build camaraderie. Despite the generous invitation, you notice your colleagues stay away and prefer to communicate indirectly via email, messaging, or by proxy. According to Business Insider, those are big giveaway signs coworkers are intimidated by you.

13. Conspires against you

The workplace is already a stressful environment. The last thing you need is fellow employees making it their duty to pull you down. When they’re not saying mean or untrue things about you, they’re huddled together plotting ways to sabotage your promotion, take your job, or get you fired.

Learning about it from a genuine colleague can spark anger. Try to keep your composure, as retaliation or confrontation can create more strife. You could consider requesting a meeting with the HR manager. Calmly explain how this makes you feel. HR may decide to address the matter in a staff meeting on your behalf or via an office memo.

14. Skipping gatherings in honor of you

Many companies openly recognize the contributions of hardworking employees. A meeting or gathering might be hosted to honor you. Everyone is invited and everyone attends—except that ONE coworker who seems to always have it in for you.

In case you were in doubt, a no-show might very well be their way of saying you’re not as important as the company makes you out to be.

To be fair, your peer could’ve had good reasons for their absence. However, if you notice they frequently forego celebrations where attendance isn’t mandatory, it might be they’re just not that into you.

15. Other coworkers don’t treat you the same

Is your workmate really intimidated by you? At some point, it may come down to comparing how other colleagues treat you to be sure that you’re not being biased against that particular coworker. Note the differences in how others deal with you, in mannerism, tone, and body language, and you’ll have your answer.

It’s unfortunate to have to put up with this type of behavior from someone at work, but the best you can do is to not take it personally. There’s also no need to dim your light so the other person can shine brighter and feel better about themselves. Both of you can shine brightly together in the workplace by embracing each other’s unique skills, knowledge, and contributions.

How to Deal with a Threatened Work Colleague

A sticky situation like this needs to be handled with a great deal of caution and sensitivity. There are two things you could consider doing. Have an open, honest, and respectful conversation… or use subtle strategies to show that you’re there to add value and not sideline anyone. Here are a few tips to disarm those coworkers with a grudge:

  • Be more open
  • Listen actively
  • Offer to help
  • Show gratitude for their contributions
  • Celebrate their successes
  • Invite them for an ice-breaker coffee meet-up
  • Crack (appropriate) jokes to show them the lighter side of you

Final Thoughts on Signs Coworkers are Intimidated by You

Coming to the realization that your coworkers are intimidated by you isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead, you can think of it as an opportunity to become a model employee who uses your knowledge, skills and personality in ways that make your peers more self-confident.

Over time, they may recognize that you’re not a threat… but rather a valuable team player.  If you want to learn other techniques for dealing with all types of people, check out our article on How To Deal With Stupid People: 13 Tips To Handle Dumbness.

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