How To Feel Confident Around Really Intimidating People

The awkwardness and isolation of feeling uncomfortable with your peers can be deeply motivating.

Woman finding confidence in her workplace Dean Drobot, RgStudio | Canva

Everyone wants to sashay into work, a classroom, or their kid’s PTA meeting with a smile on their face and their head held high. It is one of the most coveted qualities on the planet. Why? Because confidence feels good. It feels powerful and independent.

When you’re confident you can stand on your own two feet and trust yourself. You know how to handle the good and the bad and you know how to manage your little foibles, missteps, or mistakes. Confidence feels like the exact opposite of anxiety, or feeling left out, or misunderstood.


Many of us struggle to feel confident. It’s elusive. It’s not a skill we were born with, confidence is a learned skill. As an adult, this is especially important to remember if your pattern has included feeling uncertain about yourself.

RELATED: How To Stop Being The Person Who Says All The Wrong Things (At All The Wrong Times)


Six ways to feel more confident around people who usually intimdate you 

1. Understand how confidence can be learned.

The perhaps not-so-great news is you have to learn confidence.

I know it’s hard to see people around you looking and acting confident when inside you feel insecure and unsure. But that’s the launchpad for growing confidence.

2. Feel confident enough to believe something can change.

Whether you need to meet your coworkers for coffee, at a big meeting, or when offering an important presentation, learning how to feel confident is a skill that will carry through your life once you learn it.

The good news is there’s one quick skill you can start to practice right now. This skill keeps you motivated as you work on transforming your inner sense of self from lacking confidence to being fully confident. The skill is “reading the room.”


3. Learn to read the room.

Reading the room helps you feel you can count on your judgment of a situation which builds confidence.

Reading the room teaches you to take time (even a breath) before acting so you’re not reacting but acting.

Reading the room empowers you to observe those around you to take in the social norms before making a messy social judgment or saying the wrong thing.

Reading the room is putting your own needs first, which is a very important step in building confidence. You have to learn what you need to feel confident. However, no one reads the situation 100% of the time. Feeling you have to be vigilant all the time is hard and draining. The goal is to read the room so you can make a choice, and determine what the social dynamics are so you can decide how you want to respond.


RELATED: 8 Ways To 'Read The Room' When You're Feeling Socially Awkward

4. Understand the process of reading the room.

When you read the room, you scan the room to understand the people, the situation, who is there and what are they doing. In any situation, there are nonverbal cues that tell you how people are feeling, what they might be thinking, their level of energy, and the context of the situation.

Like so many situations in life, the people involved determine the context and mood of the event. Gestures, glances, and facial expressions all communicate nonverbally what people are thinking and feeling.

Being able to pick up on the subtle dynamics, vibe, or mood in a situation can feel daunting, but it is the path to growing your confidence in how you want to respond or interact. So when you do, you’re coming from a place of deeper assuredness that you know how your behavior will be received.


The skill of reading the room builds over time. Each time you work on these skills, you will find they grow and they’re easier to do.

Why 'reading the room' builds your confidence 

If you have ever been told by someone you need to “read the room” better, I’m with you. This is a common way of giving feedback that means “you made a social faux pas” or “you made an error in judgment” with how you interacted with others.

Feeling baffled by the people and situations around you and/or feeling overwhelmed by having to interact with others is not uncommon for people with neurodiversity. A history of rejection and social blunders can leave you feeling like you’re “not very good” at social situations, making friends, or even being part of a group.

Yet, if being social is a part of your work or your goals, practicing confidence-building activities like reading the room will help.


This is a game plan for how to approach social interactions with more thought and less impulsivity. It’s especially helpful if your natural style is to “see what’s happening” only to wish later you had more of a plan.

Confidence comes from knowing things can turn out just fine 

Confidence is trusting in your abilities to successfully navigate whatever social setting you’re in and believing in your skills to interact well with others. The tools to read the room can help you become more confident in your ability to enter any situation and figure people out.

Over time each little win, each time you find your observations are correct, and each time you feel successful helps to make you feel more confident.

RELATED: How To Stop Being Sarcastic (So You Can Stop Annoying People)


How to successfully read the room.

Reading the room is all about observing the people around you. Everything we learn about other people we learn from observing. So reading the room is observing what’s going on around you before you act.

There are several elements involved in reading the room. Below are details on all of them

Start reading the room almost like a game, pretending to be a 'social spy'.

Social Spy is my way of teaching people how to observe their surroundings with a little more stealth and ease. Think of Social Spy as a “curious observer;” someone who wants to find out more about the people and the situation they’re walking into.

Spying is a quiet, subtle observation without staring, hovering, or leering. It’s people-watching without being obvious.


You can drop into Social Spy mode at any time you are in an interaction with people. All it takes is a breath to slow down and observe.

It starts by observing the whole scene. Once you have the big picture, you can then zoom in to observe details from one person to the next.

As a Social Spy reading the room, you may notice the nonverbal cues being displayed as people talk to each other. You may observe the facial expressions or body language of the people in conversation. You may hear language or word choices in conversation. You may notice things NOT being talked about or things that are “left out.”

Social Spy is something anyone can learn – at any age. It’s particularly helpful if you have doubts about what to say or your role in the conversation. When in doubt, spy. You spy to find out the things you need to know about people, the things people don’t tell you, the things you are wondering about.


Scan and observe

Take two beats to scan the room. This is people-watching in fast motion. Nobody’s looking at you while you scan the room. So take the 2 beats, and get the information you need – who’s there, what are people doing? Do a sweep with your eyes of the whole situation.

Think of a lifeguard in the tower at the beach—they scan clockwise sweeping their gaze across the beach looking at 12 o’clock, one o’clock, etc. Each time you scan you can notice more.

Design your spy mission. Think of the information you want to know and then spy to get the details/information you need. As you spy, you won’t be lingering, staring, or making your scan obvious. This is meant to be a glance to gather information.

RELATED: How To Stop Putting Your Foot In Your Mouth At Work (& Feel Less Awkward, Too)


Notice the people — who is there?

People are the trigger, the reward, and the punishment around social faux pas. Building confidence happens when you successfully interact with your co-workers or peers in the way you most want to.

To do a good job at this, you have to know who is in the social situation you’re observing.

Ask yourself some questions as you scan:

Who is there?

Do you know them?

What do you know about them?

What is your history with them?

What is your relationship with them, are they your boss, colleague, higher-up, stranger?

How are other people acting?

What pace are the people talking at?

What are people talking about?

Every time people come in or out of a situation, they affect the dynamic of the gathering. If the people change, the situation changes. For instance, when your boss enters the break room, chances are your conversation with a co-worker changes. When someone you don’t get along with enters the conversation, you may choose to downshift your engagement.


Bottom line: People affect the environment.

Identify their actions — What are they doing?

Once you notice who is there, take two beats to scan and notice what people are doing and what they are involved in.

Ask yourself some questions as you scan:

What is their energy like?

Are they talking loudly or quietly?

Are they adding to a conversation or looking down at their phone?

Are they greeting other people?

Do they smile at you?

Are they sitting or standing?

What activity are people engaged in?

Actions tell us what people are feeling and how to respond to them. For instance, if someone looks at their watch for a second time, they might be pressed for time and ready to end the conversation. Or, if someone is packing up their bag with the lights off, they may be ready to leave the office for the day. Both are not the best time to strike up a conversation.


Check out the environment: Where are you and what does it convey to you?

After you check out the people and their actions, notice the environment. Each environment has its own set of expectations. If you’re unsure, you may want to spy again.

Take 2 beats and scan to find out where you are, and what the environment tells you about the expectations, situation, and context.

Ask yourself some questions as you scan.

What is the situation or context?

Where are you?

What is going on there?

Is it a formal or informal location?

Do they ask questions in the meeting?

Are there certain social expectations?

Are the chairs comfortable and inviting? Or the opposite?


What are the social rules based on that environment?

What kind of physical movement is expected in this environment?

The context you want to explore includes the situation, environment, mood, circumstances, and what has been going on for the people involved. To understand the context or mood, you spy on how people are acting and what they seem to be feeling. If you can detect how someone is feeling, you will feel more confident responding to them. Ask yourself: What do they want? What do they NOT want?

RELATED: 8 Simple Life Hacks For Socially Awkward People

Tune into social cues, facial expressions, body language, and nonverbal signals.

To tune into someone’s nonverbal or social cues, take 2 beats and scan their face to notice their expression and pick up on signals offered. Do this two times. The first time you want to scan by their face without stopping your scan. Then on the second pass, zoom in on the person’s face. After that, zoom out and look at the person’s whole body. I call this zoom in and zoom out.


Ask yourself some questions as you scan.

What do I notice about their facial expression?

What do I see in their gestures?

What emotions do I notice?

What do I see on people’s faces?

What gestures are people using?

What do these gestures tell me about their mood?

Once you feel confident you have observed the situation you’ve walked into and successfully read the room, then you can engage.

Reading social cues and nonverbal communication can be hard for many people. Learning to notice social cues and body language is not something that happens overnight. It takes practice which is very helpful for building confidence. If feeling confident around your coworkers was easy, I believe you would have done it by now. I know the awkwardness and isolation of feeling uncomfortable with your peers is deeply motivating.


Here’s my advice…Practice!

Take a field trip and people-watch.

Pick an activity or event at a location easy for you to access and practice reading the room. Pick one aspect of reading the room to work on to start. Or, you can pick one thing you want to find out, uncover, or need to know. Then reflect on what you learned by journaling, chatting about it, or verbalizing the discoveries to yourself!

Rather than expecting perfection, let go of expectations and realize you are in the learning and practice zone. Everything you learn helps you grow personally and builds confidence. Celebrate every win.

This is a journey and each time you practice you will gain more knowledge. We can work on this together, and I will be here to help you through this.


RELATED: 19 New Things To Try When You'd Rather Stay In Bed Than Make New Friends

Caroline Maguire, ACCG, PCC, M.Ed. is a personal coach who works with children with ADHD and the families who support them.