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How to work harmoniously with a dominant personality

The good news is you don’t need to give up your caring or empathetic disposition to work along more brash personas.

How to work harmoniously with a dominant personality
[Source Photo: iStock]
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Almost every team has that one dominant personality who is motivated by winning, competition, and reaching results. While dominant personalities are often seen as commanding and confident, their characteristics have a flip side. They can also become obstinate, aggressive, and overly direct.

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Take Gabe, a business development manager at a food and beverage company. Gabe was regarded as a “doer,” or someone who is outgoing and always up for a challenge. He was decisive, never hesitated, and took fast action to drive new sales. His demanding, assertive style landed the company new accounts, but it came at a cost. Gabe often upset senior leadership when he circumvented authority in order to push through new procedures. He also tended to fixate on sales targets to the detriment of long-term client relationships.

Working with someone like Gabe can be a challenge, especially if you’re on the opposite end of the personality spectrum. Many of my coaching clients, who tend to be reserved, empathetic, people-oriented professionals, struggle with dominant personalities. They find their dominant colleagues’ controlling, demanding nature hard to deal with, and many of my clients have difficulty standing their ground in the face of the dominant type’s strong will.

If this sounds familiar, then you may find yourself wondering why your dominant colleagues do what they do and how to find peace in working with them. The good thing is that you don’t have to give up being kindhearted and caring, if that’s your natural disposition. But if you want to be successful in work life, then it’s essential you learn to work with personalities that are different than your own, including dominant types.

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Here are a few ways to adapt your style to work more effectively with dominant personalities like Gabe.

Focus on the “what”—not the “how”

Dominant personalities are task-oriented. They care about outcomes, not processes. When speaking with them, focus on concrete, tangible facts. Opt to make direct assertions or suggestions rather than approaching conversations as a brainstorming session. Talk about how your proposal affects the bottom line and the expected results.

Skip the small talk

Dominant personalities operate on urgency and appreciate efficiency. They are the type of colleague that you should skip pleasantries with and get straight to the point. For example, omit phrases, such as “How are you?” or “I hope you’re doing well,” from the start of your emails. Similarly, jump right into your meeting agenda, ensuring you keep banter to a minimum.

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Don’t waste their time rehashing events, repeating details, or building up to your point. Lead with your key message and cut to the chase.

Give them independence

To influence a dominant personality, you have to understand what motivates them, which is achievement and control. The more you can give this person room for independent problem-solving and decision-making, the more effective they’ll be. Dominant personalities prize autonomy, so don’t be surprised if one-on-ones are brief or non-existent. Before delegating to a dominant personality, make sure the areas of authority are clearly defined and articulated. Focus them on bold, ambitious long-term goals to keep them consistently aiming higher.

Thoughtfully highlight areas for improvement

When giving this type of person feedback about their performance, focus on how the behavior changes that you’re requesting help them reach their goals and get better results. For example, one of Gabe’s colleagues pointed out that Gabe’s bluntness was negatively impacting his direct reports. The colleague shared that if team members left, it would mean Gabe had fewer resources with which to fulfill client sales, and therefore, he may fall short of his targets. That framing inspired Gabe to change his approach. You can also use comparison as a way to constructively motivate those with dominant styles. For instance, highlight competitors who are performing better as a way to energize them to improve.

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Fill their gaps

Healthy, productive teams require a mix of personalities. If you’re working alongside a dominant personality, boost their behavior by being their foil.

While dominant types tend to be innovative and progressive, they can also overlook risks and act too quickly. If you tend to be a more careful, deliberate decision maker, you can interject stability and reason into the process. Likewise, you can be the one to break down ambitious plans into specifics and guide actual implementation.

Don’t take their actions personally

Dominant types may respond curtly. Remember that their brusqueness does not mean they’re angry, upset, or rejecting you. Recognize that if they ask you pointed questions, it’s because they are engaging you, not because they lack trust. Expect brevity in your interactions, and understand that it’s part of their normal pattern of behavior—not a reflection of your adequacy.

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If you’re someone who has struggled to assert yourself and speak up in the workplace, or have battled with overthinking and a lack of confidence in your decision making, then there’s a lot to learn from dominant types. Integrate the upside of their style into your own, and you’ll be amazed at your team’s effectiveness.


Melody Wilding, LMSW is an executive coach and author of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work.