Tips on managing dominant personalities

Bev CouzensStandard

There always seems to be one person in an office who becomes the self-appointed leader, despite not necessarily having any authority. They may often be seen as the one with the strongest personality or whose opinions come across as more authoritative. At their best, they can be highly influential, helping to bring everyone together towards a common goal. At their worst, they can cause conflict within a team and prevent positive change. 

With more dominant personalities, their strength of character can intimidate their co-workers. Other team members may feel reluctant to share their opinions as they fear the dominant person might not listen to them and override their ideas. Those with stronger personalities may also not be aware of how their behaviour affects their colleagues and disrupts the morale and unity of the team. It can be difficult for line managers to deal effectively with challenging behaviour. Many line managers are often loath to tackle this head on due to what they think the likely response might be. They may also be concerned about demotivating the dominant personality and this filtering out to the wider team. This often leads to an all or nothing scenario where the person remains ignorant of what is really happening until a tipping point is reached, leading to a confrontation. 

You could be forgiven for thinking that a firm approach is required. However, it’s more important to ensure you are doing everything you can to get the best out of all staff members and to deal with any issues quickly and positively. It’s also crucial you do not allow them to take up all of your attention and energy, as this could also impact on other members of the team.

Some things you could try include: 

Give them a specific challenge – A lot of dominant personalities enjoy having their skills and abilities tested, so providing a specific challenge will help focus their energies. 

Talk to them privately about the impact of their behaviour – They make not be aware how their behaviour affects the rest of the team. Make sure you discuss the impact and use specific examples to address your concerns. 

Give them recognition for their work – Everyone likes to be rewarded, but strong personalities thrive on praise and recognition. 

Support any assertions with evidence – When dealing with any issues, make sure you have evidence to support what you are saying rather than relying on generalisation. 

Recognise their ideas – Strong personalities are more likely to come up with ideas or solutions, so try to encourage their participation. While some of these may be challenging, rather than giving reasons why they wouldn’t work, suggest ways they could. 

Let them work independently – Letting them work independently or assigning them special projects helps give them a sense of control, which dominant personalities tend to relish. Setting them goals but allowing them to figure out their own course of action will get the best out of them. It can also limit their contact with the rest of the team. 

Don’t wait to tackle things – Make sure you address any issues immediately and don’t let things build up. Allowing it to go on too long can result in more problems, leaving the strong personality unaware of their behaviour or others resenting a lack of action. 

Talk to them on the same level – Most dominant people speak directly and confidently, so you need to be the same and avoid beating around the bush. Make sure you keep to the point and specify the desired outcomes. 

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