The fine art of communicating with Dominant people …



Dominant people are the ones we love to hate. Get off on the wrong foot with one and your career can take an unwelcome sidetrack. Have them on your side and you have a strong champion. So how can you effectively communicate with such a power-personality?

Direct, decisive, determined, domineering: these are just some of the words that describe a highly dominant personality. Everyone knows one. You might even be one. In many cases Dominant people are the leaders, the pioneers, and the risk-takers. They run companies, they lead wars, and innovation follows in their wake. These are the people that we look to lead us where we might not otherwise go.

If you are lucky, you will work for one. If you are REALLY lucky, their office will be in another state!

Recognizing the Dominant style:

Look for strong confidence, which may even seem like ego or bravado. They are results-oriented and usually make decisions quickly. They are very direct and assertive, even aggressive at times. Most have little patience with details or lots of questions. In a meeting, they will take charge (even if they’re not in charge) and drive the discussion towards their goals. Put several in a meeting and you’ll have instant—if a bit bloody—entertainment! Some will temper the more difficult aspects of their dominant style with good people skills, but you will still feel the power underneath.

Seeing life from the Dominant perspective:

Dominant people measure others on competency and directness. They look for confidence and see anything less as potential weakness. Without recognizing it, they often “test” the confidence of others early in a relationship through some kind of challenge. They drive themselves hard and usually assume that others want to do the same. They tend to measure everyone by their own achievement yardstick. Problems are seen as interesting challenges to overcome, with risk a necessary means to the end. They have little patience for resistance to change or lack of progress. The dominant person is perplexed when people take their assertive behavior personally; they certainly don’t intend it as a personal attack.

Dealing with the Dominant:

If you are a detail-oriented person, communicating with a person of dominant style can be very frustrating. They may get impatient with your questions and even perceive you as incompetent because you need to ask them. You may only get high-level direction and feel uncomfortable with filling in the many gaps left behind. The dominant person may not understand why you don’t make faster decisions or change direction more quickly.

  • Keep your questions short and to the point.
  • Focus on big-picture questions and get your details from a different source when possible.
  • Be direct in asking for what you want and in stating your opinions.
  • Focus your confidence on what you do know, rather than filling the gap about what you don’t.
  • Don’t view the dominant person as incompetent because they don’t care about details. Their strength and focus is just in a different area: the bigger picture. Together you make a fine team!

If you are an outgoing, expressive people-person, dealing with a dominant type can frustrate your need to feel connected. They may see your people-orientation as frivolity and not take you seriously. You may perceive them as rude and unfeeling. You may find it difficult to meet their expectations for specific results. There is a strong possibility that your ego clashes. Ego clashes between you is a strong possibility.

  • Be clear about the value you bring to the team/relationship. You can help pave the way in terms of building relationships and getting things done through people.
  • Put your effusive personality on ice when dealing with the dominant person and understand their need to get down to business.
  • Have a goal to listen 50% more than you talk. This is tough for a people-person but worth the effort.
  • Ask short, to the point questions that allow you to further the relationships with the people that support the dominant person
  • Use your self-confidence to point to examples that show that collaboration and relationships are beneficial to reach better, more inclusive results.

If you are a quiet, supportive type, an hour with a dominant person can make you feel like you’ve just survived a train wreck! They may see your quiet demeanor as weak and ineffective. You may feel personally attacked by their direct approach. It can be very difficult to get them to listen to your perceptive ideas. They will have little patience for your need to control change and pace your work.

  • Don’t rely on an avoidance strategy! Instead, plan for your encounter and fully prepare what you need to say. Practice speaking out when you have a valuable contribution.
  • Know that you are the means by which the dominant’s goals get achieved. Ask directly for what you need from them to be successful.
  • State your personal and professional boundaries clearly. Ask that they speak to you privately and in professional tones when there is a problem. Though it seems, to use a cliché, “easier said than done.” Frequently remind yourself: “It’s not personal”.
  • Practice asking open-ended questions that require explanations. That forces the dominant person to contemplate rather than react.

Being an effective Dominant:

If you have a dominant style, you can achieve your goals with greater efficiency by being aware of the impact your assertive approach has on others. There are times when you can be more powerful by taking it down a notch. By adapting your approach to the style of the people you encounter and the situation, you will achieve your results faster.

  • Learn about the different styles on your team and become deeply aware of your own style
  • Avoid having a clearly defined expectation for everything you ask your people to do. An open mind will allow you to warm up to some creative ro innovative thoughts and ideas that can help you achieve your goals.
  • Listen more, particularly to the quiet ones. Some of your most intuitive and innovative people may be kept silent by the force of your personality. Make it safe for them to come out and play and you will have a bigger think-tank to draw from.
  • Give your detail- and task-oriented people time to catch up to your ideas. A bit of patience and support on your part will result in a major return of effort when they get up to speed. Remember that these people are the engines that implement your ideas. Details and a solid foundation are their fuel.
  • See and use the value of those high-energy “people” personalities. They usually hate task-oriented detail as much as you do, so use them for what they are best at: motivating and getting people working together. They can help smooth out your rough edges!

It takes all kinds of people to make the world go ’round. I encourage you to embrace the dominant personality in your life and learn effective ways to communicate with them. Together you make a powerful team!

Here’s a cartoon I’ve always liked in this context: