How to approach an impressive individual at work

How to approach an impressive colleague at work

We see them oozing confidence in the corridor at work—big bosses who, in a stroke of a pen, can make or break a career; young, charismatic managers with perfect hair; or that coworker with a great sense of humour who everyone seems to love. We have a hard time talking to people who impress us, let alone trying to work with them.

Yet, we are social beings. We influence and are influenced, so it is natural to feel intimidated by the perceived success, status or power of our contemporaries. Here’s some advice on how to approach someone who you feel overawed by. These tips will set you on the road to talking to someone you admire without becoming anxious or tongue-tied.

1. Impressive individuals do not want to be treated differently

Putting aside tyrannical or malevolent personalities who like to wield power over others to intimidate them, several studies show that most professionals who are aware they are accomplished do not think they appear intimidating. Nevertheless, many employees think twice before speaking up when sitting next to their bosses or higher-ranking managers. Rest reassured, people who appear intimidating don’t necessarily do it on purpose. More often than not, they prefer to be treated like everyone else. There’s no need to be overly apprehensive or walk on eggshells during each interaction. Simply be yourself: that is, the professional version of yourself, not you after three or four mojitos.

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2. Pay attention to your own interpretations

Evolution has taught us to be wary of wild animals, adverse enemies and natural hazards, so the human brain is instinctively programmed to pay more attention to negative stimuli than positive ones. This is why you might miss an encouraging smile from your superior during your presentation, yet immediately react to their slight scowl when you show slide number four: “They’re constantly saying that any insights from brainstorming with millennials are too simple-minded!” And you’ll never dare to speak up again. What if, for once, you shifted to the point of view that your boss has no preconceptions about you, and that they might even find you intelligent? Could it be that they were simply trying to understand all those unfamiliar buzzwords on your slide?

3. Focus on boosting your self-confidence

In an almost humorously insightful TED talk, social psychologist Amy Cuddy demonstrates the way body language affects how others perceive you, and how you perceive yourself. The more confident and relaxed you are on the outside, the more you will be on the inside. Her research shows that by taking a “power pose” for only two minutes—your feet on the desk, hands either clasped behind your head or on your hips à la Wonder Woman—you can increase testosterone levels—the hormone linked to dominance and competitiveness—and reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. The end result? You feel calmer and more confident. So, before approaching the person who makes you feel inferior, snap on your Wonder Woman bracelets or throw on that Superman cape. There is proof it works.

4. Find what makes you stand out

Talk to them, sure, but what about? In his book, The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks explains that each one of us has a “zone of genius”, a skill or talent in which we excel that arouses admiration. Use this topic as an ice-breaker. It’s the perfect way to boost your confidence and talk to that person who gets you tongue-tied in a more self-assured way. So, the next time you find yourself stuck in the elevator with the high-brow manager from head office, talk about how much you love horse riding rather than 17th-century literature.

5. …Or show an interest in what they like

People love to talk about themselves, their experiences and their opinions. When talking to someone who makes you awestruck, the easiest tactic is to get them to talk about themselves by asking open questions. There’s no need to brush up on geopolitics or stamp collecting, just ask a question after they wrap up a sentence. It’s a great way to keep the conversation flowing. The best part? The person you are talking with will enjoy your time together. This creates a small connection that will make it easier for you to approach them and be yourself the next time you run into each other. Who knows, you might find a real passion for stamp collection yourself—what a boon for dinner-party conversations!

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