Standing Up to Dominators


It’s a fact of life that some of the world’s most productive, decisive, influential, and successful people are also “dominators,” people who are supremely self-confident, direct (or even blunt), hyper-assertive, and too-often impatient with others.

While people with these personality traits are often bold about taking action, and tend to handle problems and pressure very well, they can seem intimidating and overpowering to others. They may monopolize conversations and disregard others’ ideas, knowledge, and experience.

In fact, they may dominate so thoroughly that they effectively stifle or even eliminate the valuable contributions that others around them might be able to make.

If you know someone like this in your work or your life and have been searching for appropriate responses to their personal style, here are a few suggestions that may help you:

Stand Up

This is an obvious one, but kowtowing and knuckling under to a dominating personality is only going to get you more domination. While standing up to a dominator is no guarantee of improved behavior, at least this approach tends to level the playing field and serve notice to the dominator that there’s another force to be reckoned with.

Standing up to a dominator involves:

  • Expressing your opinions and any factual corrections you want to offer.
  • Making eye contact.
  • Getting right to the point without preliminaries or small talk.
  • Fighting back against interruptions and personal attacks.
  • Sticking to your guns until there’s a strong reason to compromise.

Explain Their Impact

Surprisingly, many dominators are unaware of how much impact their dominating style has on the people around them. When you offer examples of how their behavior intimidated, bullied, or otherwise negatively impacted you and other people, they may honestly try to be more accommodating in the future.

Of course, some dominators are already aware of all this negative impact on others, and may behave this way on purpose as a way of controlling situations. A few even enjoy it.

A fair-minded and fact-filled explanation of their impact on others may not entirely eliminate their efforts to dominate, but it’s nearly always helpful to put out there a clear picture of what’s happening when the dominator does his/her thing.

Lay Out an Alternate Vision

Some dominators behave the way they do simply because they have never learned any other style of interaction. Maybe this is how they were brought up, or maybe this is the style that brought them early career successes. In any case, it’s important to make clear that other people utilize less-dominating styles of behavior and still obtain totally satisfactory results.

For example, many people are able to reach their goals and help their colleagues or team members with a more collaborative style, where everyone’s input is heard and evaluated, where everyone is encouraged to make their best contributions to the group effort, and where the results are more important than who gets the credit.

A more “free-wheeling” approach can also produce good results. Rather than having everyone revolve around the dominator and play supporting roles, people can each take responsibility for their own portion of the team’s work and exercise their own judgment about how best to accomplish it.  

Equal Respect

One common reason people settle into the dominating style is because they want to be treated with respect. That’s why it’s important that you never withdraw any of the respectful treatment you’ve been giving the dominator. But as part of your pushback, you can start asking the dominator to treat others with the same respect, importance, and recognition they want for themselves.

While dominators are often known for big ideas and bold initiatives, there’s no advantage when they stifle the big ideas and bold initiatives that others may want to contribute. After dominators begin to recognize the skills, abilities, experience, and potential contributions of others, the synergistic results can be far greater than the dominator has been accustomed to produce in the past.

The goal of all this is not to turn the dominator into a submissive, but rather to prevent the dominator from constraining, irritating, and perhaps demotivating other people with whom s/he comes in contact.

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