Softening the Bear — Communication Tips for Big Men
I gave a personal branding lecture. During the Q&A a student asked me: “Why do people seem to be afraid of me?”
“Oh,” I replied. “Because you’re a huge guy and you have a stern expression on your face.”
It was true. This soft-spoken and serious guy—who’s nature is 80% mild-mannered-intellectual-introvert and 0% bruiser—appears, at first glance, to be someone with whom one shouldn’t mess.
Standing about 6′ 6”, he’s not just tall—he’s big. A solid mass. He is also a serious guy, which translates to a non-smiling guy, at least initially. The combination adds up to a giant who looks kind of mad.
Then you say “Hello” and his warm smile busts out. Poof!—you have a different impression entirely.
If you’re a big dude reading this—and strangers always read you wrong—or if you are a person who knows a big dude who has this problem, read on.
Help Others See Beyond Your Size
Here are some communication tips for big men who want to communicate their most gentlemanly, I’m Not Going to Kill You selves to the world.
Start with a smile.
Since you know that people are prone to be on guard or even intimated when they meet you, be the ice breaker and walk in with a smile. I say “smile” but what I mean is a nonverbal sign that you are friend, not foe. This can be a kind smile, but can also be a grin and it should always be accompanied by an easygoing, kind look in your eyes.
Keep in mind:
- For this to be effective, you must have all this together prior to approaching the person, taking the stage or walking into the room.
- Work this expression out in the mirror to find the smile-eye combo that you like best.
- People—particularly women—love having big, decent guys around. They add a note of safety to the room.
Check your voice.
Here’s where you move in for the kill, or rather, the message that you are not here to kill.
Do a voice check—record and listen to yourself, and ask others their impression of your voice. Remove any gruffness, hardness or aggressive notes from your vocal quality and speech. You don’t need them and chances are they are working against you.
Since you are a large man, people automatically “hear you” more than they do other people. They see you sooner, and your voice is perceived as louder and stronger than smaller folk.
Use this information to your advantage. Modulate your voice in social situations to engender trust, and wipe out any pause related to your physical size. This might include speaking at a lower volume than usual, choosing milder words or using a calmer or more melodic delivery.
I was sitting at a cafe when I heard a pleasant, “Excuse me.”
I turned around to face one of the hugest people I’ve ever seen. But I had heard the genteel voice and words first, then saw the cheerful grin, so the Massive Stranger thing wasn’t a jolt. He asked to borrow my phone, and peppered the request with so many cordial niceties that I handed it over.
This dude, who happened to be a former football player who’s big even by Jolly Green Giant standards, did a great job of using verbal and nonverbal cues to mitigate any unease a woman might feel at being approached by a massive male stranger and asked to hand over her phone.
Use your body language.
Evolutionarily, males and females are engineered to assess strangers on a few levels—the physical one is foremost, since it’s immediately apparent to our eyes, and hard to hide. In other words, if my ancestors were not terribly good at detecting whether or not strangers were a threat—whether they could physically overpower them—said ancestors would probably not have survived very long. And I would not be typing on this laptop and drinking herbal iced tea.
This means that folks are automatically going to be on guard when they meet you. They will clock your movements, maybe not even consciously, until they receive enough data about you that tells them they shouldn’t. By contrast, I, being a smaller Earthling, could start busting out karate moves in the middle of a room and no one would blink. Sure, they would laugh, but that’s another story.
What to do? Endeavor to make your gestures and movements fluid. Not grand or sudden or anything that can be read as aggressive. This does not mean you should crumple your shoulders and mince about. Far from it! An easygoing, natural confidence is the goal. One that communicate safety at every turn—from your kind smile and eyes to smooth walk and talk.
The Benefit to You
Why are you doing all this? Maybe you are sick of people being scared when you come their way, or just seeing you as That Big Guy.
So you are smartly disarming the inherent threat that comes with your size—wiping out any unease others feel when they come in contact with a large man. And you are graciously helping strangers feel more comfortable in your presence.
You are doing this so others might better see and know You.
That is a good thing.