Which person would you rather spark up a conversation with?

A football player waving and smiling from the sidelines. Mr. Approachable

A basketball player scowling. Mr. Intimidating

Why does it matter?

Communication style is how you build relationships with the people around you — friends, family members, peers, co-workers, and yes, fans if you have any! 

To build relationships you need to attract people not repel them.

Differentiating between the two allows you to be intentional in how you communicate.

What's Your Experience?

Think back on people who intimidated you and why you felt intimidated.

  • Was it something they said or did? 

  • The way they looked?

  • Their tone of voice or words they used?

  • Their accomplishments?

  • Their role, or professional or social stature?

  • Their gender or race?

A cartoon mushroom looks pensive. The text reads,

Regardless of what it was for you, different people find different things to be intimidating.

Consider the 5 following key factors to understand how people communicate with each other.


True or False? Often, the people who intimidate us have no idea how we see them.

1. Appearance

The way you look can contribute to how you present yourself to other people. First impressions are often made on the basis of:

  • gender

  • race

  • ethnic background

  • physical size

  • hairstyle

  • choice of clothing

A short man and large man bump into each other in a public square. The short man runs away from the large man. It's all relative.


In the GIF above, what's intimidating about the appearance of the man on the right that makes the other man run off?

2. Body Language

A man smiles and raises his eyebrows. How you move speaks volumes.

Body language is what's known as non-verbal communication cues. It's communication through one or more physical behaviors:

  • posture

  • crossed or relaxed arms

  • mannerisms

  • gestures

  • head tilts

  • facial expressions

  • eye contact


JJ, who’s young and a bit shy, just started as a volunteer with a community organization. What behavior could help JJ come across as approachable?

3. Tone Of Voice

How you speak opens up or shuts down conversation.

Tone of voice is a combination of:

  • volume (loud vs quiet)

  • timing (pauses vs run-on)

  • pace (fast vs slow)

  • inflection (ups and downs)

  • use of sounds that convey understanding (uh huh, ahh)

A woman laughs and says, It's not just what you say, it's how you say it.


If you wanted to collaborate and invite conversation, which of the following would help you do that?

4. Use Of Physical Space

Two men meet in a room. One man moves his face really close to the other man's face. What's the right amount for you?

Are you giving people the space they need or want?

The right space depends on:

  • people's cultural background

  • the setting of the conversation

  • the nature and closeness of their relationship


What is the best way to avoid intimidating someone in physical space?

5. Social Or Professional Status

Who you are, where you live, and/or what you do for a living can have an impact.

These things communicate for you:

  • profession

  • role

  • place of residence

  • belongings (car, jewelry)

  • fame/celebrity

  • wealth

  • credentials

  • accomplishments

Nick Jonas smiles and waves. Is it possible to be both approachable and intimidating at the same time?


What makes the celebrity in the GIF above — Nick Jonas — feel approachable?

Take Action

A woman shrugs her shoulders.

Consider how you currently present. Armed with this insight, you can be intentional about how you present in future interactions.

Ask yourself:


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