Working With Dominant People

Copyright (c) 2006 William Frank Diedrich

When I use the terms “Dominant People” I am referring to those people who tend to take charge, to be little abrupt, seem to be arrogant, to be impatient, and don’t always listen. It’s their way or the highway in many cases. Many people are intimidated by Dominant people. Most of us do not like conflict, but Dominant people always seem willing to create it.

Typically, most of us manage Dominant types by staying out of their way. We avoid confrontation, avoid saying how we really feel, and often tell them what we think they want to hear. We rationalize our avoidance by complaining that the Dominant person is insensitive, aggressive, impatient, and arrogant. We complain about these “faults” but they really aren’t faults at all. They are strengths. Let me explain.

Insensitive means that the Dominant person doesn’t care about your feelings. It isn’t that he doesn’t care. He just isn’t aware that you have feelings. What this means is that the Dominant person is so focused on task that feelings aren’t even on his radar screen. The ability to be totally focused on task is a strength. When a task focus is over extended it becomes insensitivity. It isn’t personal. If you are being overrun, you have to learn how to speak up.

This is where the problem comes. People don’t want to confront. They keep quiet, or they speak in vague terms, or they avoid altogether. None of these strategies work. They enable the Dominant person to keep on being insensitive. The idea is to calmly and firmly speak while making direct eye contact. If she reacts with intimidation you have to stand your ground. You don’t need to yell or get upset. Calmly and firmly speak your mind. The more you do this, the more respect you will command from the Dominant person. Don’t lie and don’t make excuses. If you are right, express your confidence that you are right. If you are wrong, admit it and say how you will take care of it.

“You spot it; you got it!” is the phrase that applies to many dominant people. They see what they want and they go after it. Where others may procrastinate, make excuses, or become indecisive, the Dominant person is going for it. If their aggressiveness encroaches on your boundaries you, again, have to speak up. I once had a Dominant manager who interrupted my report in a meeting and then went on to other business. I met him in his office later. I told him I did not appreciate his interrupting and then eliminating my part of the meeting. I expressed my expectation that I should be able to clearly and concisely speak my part. I made sure I presented myself in a rational way. He didn’t realize what he had done and apologized. In other words, if I hadn’t told him, he would never had known. I could have kept quiet and nursed my grievance, but how would that have taught him how to treat me?

It is important to add that presenting yourself as a victim often backfires. Most Dominant people have little patience with victimhood. Instead of focusing on how we think the Dominant person has hurt our feelings, we would gain more by clearly speaking our expectations.

Dominant people want results. That’s why many of them are impatient. It is certainly a strength to be results oriented. When we feel pushed too hard we can be understanding saying something like: “I know you want this yesterday, and I am doing all I can to get it done fast. I have to tell you that your interruptions and constant asking me if I’m done yet are slowing me down. Let me do my job and I’ll keep you posted.” Directness and honesty are the way to a Dominant person’s heart and mind.

What many see as arrogance is confidence over extended. If a dominant person is being arrogant we don’t need to teach her a lesson. I would suggest the opposite approach. Compliment the Dominant person on her confidence and express your concerns. For example you might say: “I respect your confidence, and I need to see some more data before I feel comfortable making this move.”

To be offended by the behaviors of a Dominant person is a choice we make. Most Dominant people I know respect people who stand up to them, who are direct, and who get things done. Your ability to accept Dominant people for who they are, rather than resisting them, will strengthen your ability to deal with them effectively. Dominant people have a strong need to be in control. This isn’t good or bad, it just is.

In my past corporate life I worked with a very Dominant leader. At first I found myself complaining about the way he treated me and others. I soon realized that the problem was more in my expectation than in his behavior. I was expecting him to take care of me. His way of being taught me how to take care of myself–to speak my truth and to be direct. I learned how not to take his behavior personally. I learned that you don’t take problems to a Dominant leader; you take your solutions to the problems. He may not agree with your solution but he will respect you for having one.

I now have a five year old daughter who has a Dominant personality. Recently I informed her that she is not the boss. She immediately stated that she is the boss. She added that she is the boss of the whole world and also outer space. I’m looking forward to next several years with this Dominant child, helping her to refine her many strengths. It will always be a challenge to use persuasion and firmness rather than force to teach her how to behave. I understand her need to have control, and I respect it. The challenge most Dominant people have is managing their need for control without allowing it to destroy their relationships, their careers, their friendships, or their lives.

Each personality style has its own unique qualities. Understanding others makes it easier to deal with them. It makes it easier to connect with people in both personal and professional situations. Our resistance to the styles of others makes us ineffective. Complaining about the way others do things distracts us from learning how to work with them. We need to shift our tendency to see people in terms of their faults to an ability to see them in terms of their needs. What does this person need to be great? That is the question we, as leaders, will ask ourselves when we are confronted with others who are motivated differently than we are.