< Back to article list

Communicating Effectively When Intimidated

written by Erin Garwood, M.A.

Have you ever had the experience of trying to talk to someone when you are nervous or scared of the interaction or of the other person? You realize you can’t find the words, or you just keep thinking about why all of a sudden you are so sweaty! You may end up not saying anything or you may struggle with your words to the point you give up and end the conversation with a “never mind, don’t worry about it.” This is a totally normal and fairly common experience when someone feels intimidated or afraid. Acknowledging this feeling can be the first step in helping you feel more confident in yourself and your communication skills with intimidating people or situations.


Before the conversation:

  • Identify your feelings and emotions: take time to reflect on what feelings may be coming up such as nervousness, worry, anger, or fear. Allow yourself the time to reflect and validate your feelings, which will help you feel less overwhelmed or surprised by them.
  • Create goals: spend time outlining what you are hoping to accomplish in the conversation and identify what it is you need from the other person or how you need the situation to change.


During the conversation:

  • Listen actively: this may be difficult, especially if you are nervous, but active listening can help you to feel more connected to the conversation and the other speaker. You may do this a number of ways such as; paraphrasing what they have said to make sure you understand, maintaining eye contact, and asking clarifying questions.
  • Honor your feelings: throughout the conversation, you may continue to feel those difficult emotions that you identified before starting. That is okay and does not mean you are doing anything wrong! It is normal to continue feeling nervous or scared throughout the difficult conversation even if you are doing everything right.
  • If needed, ask to take a break: if you are too overwhelmed, ask the other person if you could take a few minutes to gather your thoughts. This may help you to regulate your emotions, your thoughts, and even your breathing in order to continue with the conversation. Asking for a few minutes will also signal to the other person that you are taking the conversation seriously and want to be thoughtful in your response.


After the conversation:

  • Debrief: find someone you trust and talk to them about how the conversation went and how you are feeling now that it is over. You can use this processing space to determine if your needs were met in the conversation or if you may need to talk again.
  • Self-care and compassion: after having difficult conversations it is important to be kind to yourself and plan accordingly. Try not to schedule any important tasks or things that require a significant amount of focus after as it is possible you may feel distracted by thinking about the conversation.


Being intimidated in conversations is completely understandable as you continue to grow in your professional identity. Following the steps above and allowing yourself to work through it will help you develop the skills and confidence to have difficult conversations.