Sometimes people who feel insecure, unsure, or less-than-confident about their position in a meeting, their job, their relationship, or a social situation have the tendency to do a little chest puffing in order to make themselves appear more confident than they really are.
If you watch any nature documentaries on television (or have channel surfed AnimalPlanet), then you know this behavior is downright primitive. Animals, insects, fish… virtually every category of creature I can think of will mask fear or try to impress others by (sometimes literally) puffing out their chest to make themselves appear larger and more intimidating than any potential challengers.
If you’ve visited a college campus on game day during football season, you’ve likely seen this chest puffing behavior as well.
Chest puffing tactics are a form of bluffing
When someone with an opposing viewpoint tries to take up more space at a conference table, speak louder than you, talk over or interrupt you, or even stand over you so you’re forced to look up at them — don’t be taken in by their blustering, bellowing, and bullying. If anything it should alert you to the fact they are the ones feeling intimidated and fearful about the ideas you’re bringing to the table.
My first approach is always to remain calm and stand your ground, but don’t be afraid to interrupt them in return or to raise your voice in order to continue being heard. Don’t let it descend into a shouting match, but neither should you let them have their way simply because they had the loudest voice.
Chest puffing comes from a visceral, emotional place, so when I encounter it I tend to rely on reason and logic because it makes me appear to be calmer and more open to discussion. It can also help to deflate the chest puffers because if you ask questions that require a reasoned response they can’t maintain their primal attempt at pack leader dominance while simultaneously trying to consider an intelligent answer. It’s like you threw a wrench into the works and it can frequently grind their aggressive approach to a halt.
Beware of your own chest puffing too!
Don’t let the lack of an immediate answer to a challenging question force you into chest puffing mode. If you’re being peppered with questions you don’t know the answer to and being feeling threatened, slow your responses. Think before you speak.
It’s okay to not have the answer to every single question.
As a matter of fact, admitting you don’t have the answer at the moment and will have to research it and get back to them with can actually go a long way to avoid chest puffing from the challenger. They can relax a bit because you basically admitted they asked a good question (or at least one that required you to dig into the topic a little deeper) and they can back-off. They wanted to appear smarter (or make you appear less-than-perfect) and they accomplished their mission. If you’d kept the argument going, they would have simply amplified their efforts (and their vocal volume) until both of your were in a shouting match.
The next time you’re in a conversation and the chest puffing begins, use some of these tips to help deflate the situation.