The Best Antidote for Intimidation is to Intimidate the Intimidator

Intimidation is the water boarding of business. It is a tactic that creates an artificial fear that something bad might happen

Let’s face it: Intimidation is a fact of life. It joins death and taxes as one of the few certainties in life. If someone tells you they have never been intimidated by someone or something, they are lying to you because they are too intimidated to admit it.

Like a Stephen King horror story, intimidation comes at us in many forms and faces. As long as intimidation is going to be part of our lives, we might as well learn how to deal with it, resist it, and even use it. The key to doing this is to understand the dynamics of intimidation and the motivation of those who attempt to wield it. If we do, it can never inhibit our actions and control us.

It Comes From Everywhere

Intimidation comes at us from many quarters – parents, teachers, schoolmates and even churches – but the workplace is WorkplaceIntimidationwhere we are most likely to be fed a steady diet of The Big I. The typical business environment is an out-and-out incubator for intimidation. The use of power, authority, position and status to intimidate workers into compliance is, at many companies, considered to be one of the most effective of management’s bag of coercive tools. Respect for authority, position and status is fine, but using them to intimidate others into submissive acquiescence is quite another thing.

Intimidation in the workplace can be blunt and blatant or it can be subtle and surreptitious. The question is not whether we will face intimidation – we will – but how we will confront it. Finding the right approach to neutralizing intimidation may at times seem counterintuitive, but it is important to do so. Knowing how to react to what, in essence, is bullying will go a long way toward determining just who or what will control our lives and our careers.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

The natural inclination to workplace intimidation is to be cowed and fearful, but that is the wrong reaction because it fails to differentiate between real fear and the feeling of intimidation. Fear is a natural and primordial reaction that is intended to warn us that the threat of bodily injury, for example, is imminent. For example, when a pack of street thugs hold you at gun point in a dark alley. Intimidation, on the other hand, is a tactic used by a weak management to create an artificial aura of fear that something bad might happen. And the problem is that fear stimulated by workplace intimidation robs its victim employees of their ability to perform at peak levels.


For this reason, intimidation used as a tool of management is counterproductive and destructive. Intimidation cowers the employee in a way that limits their ability to act independently, resulting in wasted time, talent and creative opportunity. The idea that you can command people to do things because they’re afraid of you makes the use of intimidation a pretty tempting commodity for the weak and insecure manager. The problem is that intimidation never gets the best out of people. In fact, this approach is the antithesis of effective leadership and detrimental to any hope of achieving success.

Those who suffer from the application of workplace intimidation become overly fearful of offering their ideas or sharing their concern. (Ever had that feeling?) They are wary of taking the initiative and, accordingly, their doubts become self-fulfilling. Even worse, those who succumb to intimidation become little more than frustrated drones, mindlessly carrying out a sort of genetic blueprint drawn by the intimidating figure from on high. It is sad to see how many people suffer through their entire business career intimidated by the bullying of others, in a way that causes them to fear any attempt to do what they dream to do; and instead are forced to play by the rules of others. In the words of Shakespeare: “Our doubts are traitors that make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”

When it comes time to face the demons of intimidation – and it will happen – you will be well served by recognizing intimidation for what it is and by exhibiting a confidence that will never allow it to consume you and your career. This may not be easy (actually it is), but it is the only way to avoid the feeling of being chained to an oar of a slave-galley; otherwise known as the corporate world.

Fighting Intimidation with Intimidation

Over 45 years of business experience gave me a front row seat to observe all the tricks and treats of intimidation in business. From that experience, one observation clearly stands out: Those who consistently use their position or power in an organization to intimidate others do so in response to their own inner anxieties of insecurity, weakness and fear of being exposed as incompetent. This type of manager uses intimidation as a defense mechanism and protective moat intended to prevent workers from breaching their wall of insecurity.

So the first step to dealing with intimidation in the workplace is to recognize that it is thrust upon us from a sense of insecurity and weakness, rather than confidence and strength. Once we recognize the purpose of intimidation, we are well on our way to thwarting its impact. This understanding gives us the power to rise above the situation and turn it against the intimidator. Think of it in terms of reverse intimidation. This is the embodiment of the old saying, “Fight fire with fire!” That is, creating a “back-draft” that turns the intimidation back on the intimidator.

Like a mirror used to reflect and increase the power of the sun, intimidation reflected back on intimidator magnifies its impact. The person who consciously uses intimidation in an effort to gain control is like the schoolyard bully. He will keep pushing so long as he thinks he can get away with such action. On the other hand, as soon as the intimidator realizes you will not be intimidated, then the whole relationship will change.

You may be thinking that challenging the intimidator is easy to say, but that it is only Pollyanna and not realistic in the real world. It is true that standing up to the intimidator may, in and of itself, be intimidating and career-threatening, but as long as we hold to this attitude we are, in effect, validating the power of intimidation. It may seem like a risk to stand up to the intimidator, but once we scrunch up the courage to do so, the weakness of the intimidator will be exposed and the power will shift.

There is a revealing scene in the movie Zero Dark Thirty when Maya (Jessica Chastain), who is a junior member of a team of CIA operatives, charged with finding Osama bin Laden, stands up to her boss. Constantly intimidated by reminders of zero-dark-thirty-2012-img02her low position on the team, lack of experience, the power of the system and a “station chief” more concerned with his resume and fear of failure than accomplishing the objective, Maya finally takes a stand. Using his insecurities and ambitions against him, Maya reflects the intimidation back at her boss, and he backs down. From that time forward Maya is treated with respect and her ideas are taken seriously, ultimately resulting in finally tracking down OBL.

This is not to suggest that how we deal with intimidation in the workplace will be as dramatic and impactful, but it will be for us and our future. At the very least, understanding intimidation and the motivation for some to use it will enable us to better deal with it. But we can actually do more than that. We can use the understanding of motivation to intimidate the intimidator; exorcising it from our lives and allowing us the freedom to achieve all that we have the potential to achieve.

And the moral of the story …

Intimidation sucks! It creates an artificial feeling of fear that inhibits its victims from performing to their potential. But intimidation is a cold fact of life – especially in the workplace – that can only be conquered when confronted. The way to neutralize the impact of intimidation is to understand it and recognize why it is being used. When we identify intimidation as a desperate tactic of a weak and insecure manager, it loses its fearsome influence and can, in fact, be used against the intimidator to nullify it.

The truth is that only by understanding intimidation and identifying its purpose and then turning it back on itself, will we be truly free from its impact and influences on our performance. When we conjure up the vision of the business intimidator as nothing more than a schoolyard bully and comprehend that the only way to stop them is to stand up to them, we will have discovered the only antidote to intimidation.

35 responses to “The Best Antidote for Intimidation is to Intimidate the Intimidator

  1. Just Like Harriet Tubman Intimidation Creates An Extreme Lack Of Trust Which Fueled The Underground Railroad. They Ask How Did You Achieve Your Sales. Now Its Time To Lie And Not Share.Through Fear Of Your Inovative Success Could Be Instantly Destroyed Through Incompentence As Well As Intimidation. So Boss I Just Did What You Told Me To Do. See A Lot Of People.

  2. More and more news on public radio and the internet, youtube, etc., reflects this societal problem, when the only solution to war is peace, right? I’m worried…

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  5. If the intimidator is a narcissist, intimidating back or even standing up for yourself will back fire. They will accuse you of their own behavior. Bet be, is keep you mouth shut, stroke the ego and look for a way to get the heck out of there.

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  9. Standing up to the intimidator is easier said than done. In certain high power distance cultures the boss / intimidator feels insulted if their subordinates stand up to them. It’s best to play along and look for another place to work. This also is easier said than done as its not easy to leave jobs especially when your life depends on it. Looking for some better advice here not the usual.

  10. wtf is this. this is complete crap. ?????? did i just read this for real. like wtf bro u dont fight someone. u just stfu and get on with life. ur better than this bro. if you can, props to u man. let it go and just scuurrrr all the way back to 1738. back at it again with white vans. word.

  11. it doesn't matter

    Every job I have ever had leaves me with the intimidation factor and its so bad that most people affected by it want to take their own life because there mind is constantly reminded every time they are in the workforce that they are or feel inferior. They feel disrespected and mostly worthless and its the worst feeling in the world. I have been unfairly dismissed from employment. As a result depressed and alone. My family won’t listen to me anymore about my workplaces because they are saying its all in my head and I make more of issues than I need to. Or just don’t listen or take what your employer says too hard. Learn to accept criticism or feedback as a good boss will always want to talk about work improvements and you are really your own worse enemy. I believe that this is not true. I have always felt that I should be my own boss create my own employment so that I don’t have to feel intimidated any more. Or I just never work again and I don’t officially retire until I am 65 according to my supper. However because I have fallen so often in and out of work because I resign rather than the boss sacking me so that I don’t feel the fear of loosing employment because of intimidation.

  12. it doesn't matter

    Every job I have ever had leaves me with the intimidation factor and its so bad that most people affected by it want to take their own life because there mind is constantly reminded every time they are in the workforce that they are or feel inferior. They feel disrespected and mostly worthless and its the worst feeling in the world. I have been unfairly dismissed from employment. As a result depressed and alone. My family won’t listen to me anymore about my workplaces because they are saying its all in my head and I make more of issues than I need to. Or just don’t listen or take what your employer says too hard. Learn to accept criticism or feedback as a good boss will always want to talk about work improvements and you are really your own worse enemy. I believe that this is not true. I have always felt that I should be my own boss create my own employment so that I don’t have to feel intimidated any more. Or I just never work again and I don’t officially retire until I am 65 according to my supper. However because I have fallen so often in and out of work because I resign rather than the boss sacking me so that I don’t feel the fear of a boss taking my job away from me.

  13. Thank you Bob for sharing your insight in the power of intimidation. Your understanding of intimidation is key to effectively confronting and breaking this ageless stronghold.

  14. ALLEN ALEJANDRO

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  15. Decreasing thing for Greene’s video game is his particular tendency to be able to dole out punishing gets, seeing that he tends to make full usage of his or her 6’3”, 234-pound body.

  16. If the intimidator is not ashame to do it. The intimidated should not even hesitate to let him/her know that he/ she does not like it on the spot if possible Or shortly thereafter. You can always pass the message in indirectway first if it does not seem to work than go to direct mode just say it.

  17. What the hell?

    I do have to deal with my intimidating manager on a daily basis. I am a bit more thick skinned than others and can take his shit,mainly by thinking that he is a complete tosser, just nod and don’t disagree, but my 2 colleagues are quite sensitive and it pains me how he is knocking every bit of confidence out of them. Boss rants when he thinks he is loosing control and thinks we keep things from him, demanding to be copied into every email conversation but does not realise that everyone is scared to approach him about anything in case he kicks off and he knows exactly how to make people feel incompetent. I am thinking of taking him to one site on day and tell him that he needs to stop this and what it does to people.

  18. It’s better to confront the intimidator then to let it slide and take it especially if it’s affecting your performance and day-to-day working environment. That’s when the problem is at a point where action needs to be taken. If your unsure how to handle it one-on-one then include a coworker(s) to ensure the issue is no kept behind closed doors and never fixed. Talking it out is also good for you because you may find out that it’s not really targeted at you but just miscommunication. Not doing anything or leaving it on the shelf will not resolve anything and the issue will probably happen again somewhere else. If you like your job and the people you work with stand up for yourself.

  19. Ummm… I was intimidating to another employee just by me being hired on. This lady constantly put me down, stole my candidates (we were recruiters), wouldn’t allow me to interview or even register people, and made a big deal about how she was so experienced in her field. I confronted her SEVERAL times to no avail. I told my boss several times who eventually told me that I just needed to “learn how to get along” with her. My other co-worker kept getting upset because if he and I were alone, he would hear me complain about her and vice versa.

    Eventually, my boss got sick of the squabbling and didn’t deal with the situation properly. He fired me – via text message – and completely destroyed my career. He released me from my non-compete agreement on my termination paper that claimed I had “mishandled multiple situations with regards to HR.” I can no longer work within the realm of recruiting or HR.

    Oh and the real kicker? This tool is now suing me and claiming that I violated my non-compete. He RELEASED me from the non-compete, yet is trying to hold me to it? Unfortunately, this article’s advice doesn’t always work…

  20. Gee Willikers

    This is not really practical advice. In many cases you will be the object of retaliation and you will be set up to be fired. It’s all about who has the power.

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  22. Just know you haven’t given any practical step by step advice. Feel like I just wasted my time.
    And no I’m not trying to intimidate you.

  23. There are almost no articles to google for managers who are persistently intimidated by subordinates. I have been a shift manager for about 5 years. Having never been a manager or had any real schooling on it, I had no idea what it really involved, and have learned along the way. I am nice, but I mean what I say. I respect manners, kindness, and hard work and I hold myself to that standard.

    People are CONSTANTLY challenging my authority and often by intimidation. Even other managers try to intimidate me. Some threaten to beat you (a male manager did this to me also).

  24. Police like to intiminate , but even they can be discouraged .!
    Would you like to know how by example. ?

  25. They stated , i had something to do with my childerens schoolfire here in Victor harblur primery school . Becouse they said i had the technoligy.
    So today i make them buy the technoligy. Instead of compensating me for wrongfull detainmend .they can take as long as they like! To think about it. While i share my information. To others.

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  27. PARDON ME??

    Did I just read a response about “Shutting Up and Carrying On”?
    What decade is that writer from? Or… better yet, are those thoughts shared by an adult child from an Abusive Home?

    I am experiencing a different form of Workplace Bullying whereby the individual who reports ( based on cehercion from management) is also protected from any retaliation by the person he/ she reported (which in this instance is myself) However, I was not reported for bullying but rather another incident. THE BEST PART IS THIS… about 4-6 wks before I was reported for ‘said allegations’ I was informed by a colleague /friend/ union rep quote / unquote ” I just want you to know the YOU are on their radar” (radar being my provincial employer) My reply was by no means sassy but more naive as I replied with “What?? No…don’t be silly, people don’t act that way”. HA! Guess what? YES they sure do! That act right there destroyed my faith in humankind and how we treat each other. I was raised in a small town with few rules other than a handshake and a smile sealed a deal, treat others as you would like to be treated etc…
    Alomg with that came the Catholic (which I no longer practice) virtues instilled but not always exemplified by the community (but that’s a whole different topic)
    Anyway, to sum this up faster I am still feeling the effects of a female workplace attack and it’s been over 1 yr. I tried to take the high road etc but at one point felt backed into a corner because I was being questioned (without reason) of my whereabouts for 30min because as a nurse that visits new mom’s I spent extra time assisting a new mom to learn how to breastfeed her 2 day old newborn. I came ‘undone’ on that colleague and it was suggested I take ‘medical leave’ to avoid other punitive actions. I did so but by doing this I lived for 6 months at 60% of my wage, no support for my child by her dad × 18 months. .. it goes on and on. The final point is that I took the time to heal with a psychologist who assisted me with certain areas as well as an emotional behavior coach who helped me visit past experiences / trauma and heal. Upon a slow return to work I was doing good but certain key players are still there, my manager plays both sides stating she wants to support & assist me etc but also tells me repeatedly that “All eyes are on me” and I am constantly reported by some coworkers to her for basically any reason they can find. These people are protected by the company standards that I can not approach them about any issue or I may be disciplined or lose my job. Another worker took a personal conversation between she and I (that I deem personal) that became a bit edgy and took it to management level because she knew she could. Once again, I was reprimanded and informed that any further discussion with this person re: this matter could see me facing more disciplinary actions. I am lost… it’s as though I have been branded and have no rights except that I should! !
    I’ve had to learn to manage my emotional reactions, face many more obstacles than just this and still show up for work, I ve endured a professional investigation by the board that licences me to be a nurse that I pay $600 / year to all so they can make an example of me, fine me and put other sanctions on me…One including that I remain in this work setting until they deem otherwise. So, resigning is not an option, my manager has mastered the art of insiduously bullying me to the point of almost breaking me. However, I only ended up on this site because at some point this evening my SPIRIT was recharged and I decided that I am going to learn the art of ‘ INSIDIOUSLY INTIMIDATING’ this manager right back, along with all her little minions. If I lose my position then so be it but at least I will know that I WAS NOT BROKEN, I am STRONG and RESILIENT and they can NEVER TAKE my NURSING DEGREE from ME!
    I refuse to let WORKPLACE MEAN GIRLS beat me and I believe that I have discovered just how to put my plan in action.
    At the End of the Day… I do not support the just shut up and deal with it comment. For me, it has become how to Outwit, Outsmart & Outplay the Bully. I don’t have 1:1 meetings with my manager and if I do, then I reply by email to confirm our discussion. When she answers in a vague manner, I re-write what she has said to me in previous conversations and leave that up to her to reply to. DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT and DOCUMENT everything. Be wise and do not fall for the Wolf in Sheep’s clothing. Trust No One unless they perhaps disclose similar treatment toward them BUT do not give up your game play. I detest the it has become an All for One and One for All system but if I want to remain mentally and physically intact then I guess this is what I have to do because the good old standards and morals have gone the way of the
    DoeDoe bird so to speak and I refuse to join that ranks of extinction all because I don’t do things the way others do but I still achieve the same end result.
    My final message ~ If you are solid with your worplace ethics and effort than do not allow yourself to be sucked into the Mean Workplace Vortex! Find a way to Dig your Heels In and if in the end it doesn’t work then Go Out in an Honorable Blaze of Glory … and if possible take a few out along the way and leave knowing that you have made a difference for new hires.
    Cheers to ~ Staying Strong, Living by your Values and HonorIng Your True Self ~

  28. I cant believe some of these comments from both male and female…you sound so timid and afraid fearful of retaliation its no wonder you are targets of this kind of bullying and intimidation….I swear to all of you if you walk through life fearlessly you wont ever be a target again…fuck fear dont make your self a target!! Never bow down and never ever seek the approval of anyone! Especially you ladies never forget that you can do the job as good if not better than any motherfucker do your job to the best of your ability and demand respect if your talked down to or intimidated in any way you stand up for yourself. And the bully will do what all bullys do leave you alone and find someone else to fuck with

  29. I’m going through a different type of intimidation that started at work, intimidation where dirty air is directed toward me from the vents above or, and I know it sounds strange, directed at the floor in such a way that I end up so dusty when I get home its crazy. I constantly see white particles fly pass my eyes. The building has been redone and the vents are now high tech were they are being controed with an app. I caught ones maneuvering the vents in the glass and as soon as they leave I begin to chock. These are the same people that smile in your face. Its the type of intimidation that’s done so that no one knows with the altimate goal of me leaving. To tell that this is happening is so underhanded because its sounds crazy to think is happening not to mention tell someone what I see going on when no one else sees it. What do you do in this case, when you know its being done and because the connections are so wide spread, no matter where I go know the same air issues are now happening. I guess since I didn’t exit, with about 18 months before eligible for retirement, then we will make your life miserable. How do you report this, again when this form of intimidation is done so underhandedly that its done so good that to speak about it, you look like the crazy one.

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