Workplace teams are somewhat like a family. And any time a group of people with wildly different personalities are forced to coexist together – whether it’s at the Thanksgiving table or the conference table – things don’t always go smoothly. While some teams are blessed with personality types that balance each other well, many have a dominating personality (or two) who throw the dynamic off-kilter.
Having team members who speak up often is not inherently a bad thing. But when one person dominates conversations and meetings in a workplace, it often stifles engagement from other colleagues. It can make the office feel like an unsafe place to contribute, offer constructive criticism, and bring a diverse set of opinions, which ultimately harms morale. Sometimes this happens because the dominating person simply lacks self-awareness, or they’re just very extroverted and excited to participate. Other times, it’s because the person has an “Enforcer” conflict style. This is an attitude that what’s most important is that they “win” and get their own needs met, even if it damages the relationship.
It takes courage to confront this problem, but it’s vital if you want to restore harmony within your team. Whether you’re a manager of a domineering employee, a colleague wanting to rein in a teammate’s behavior, or a professional trying to curb your own tendency to take over, here’s how to effectively tackle this common issue.
Work on your own self-awareness
Chiming in during meetings comes naturally to talkative, extroverted people. But employees with a dominating personality may not realize their frequent contributions can cause quieter colleagues to hold back. If you’re quick to speak up in meetings, it’s helpful to work on self-awareness to make sure you’re not keeping others from engaging. If you have a lot to say, ask yourself, “Am I pausing to see if anyone else wants to chime in?” and “Do I recognize when I’ve been speaking more than a few minutes?”
In the bigger picture, being more aware of your personality and behaviors in a variety of contexts can be revelatory. Tools like the DISC personality assessment – a measure of behavioral style based on the qualities of dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness – are among those that workplaces rely on to help employees deepen that valuable self-understanding. Take some time to check out DISC and other widely available assessments to discover more about your own priorities and preferences.
Encourage others to talk
If you’re facilitating a meeting where someone is hogging the floor, call on other employees to ask for their thoughts. This will help those employees feel valued and remind the dominant colleagues that their teammates’ opinions matter too. This also takes pressure off colleagues who have a peacemaker personality type and want to make sure everyone is heard.
If the person with the dominating personality often interrupts while others are speaking, set some boundaries to indicate this behavior needs to stop. It could be raising a finger to signal it’s not their turn yet. Or you could say you know they want to chime in, but you need to get input from others.
Politely cut them off and redirect
If the dominant person is going off on a tangent, or speaking for so long that the body language of your colleagues indicates they’re getting antsy, find a way to cut the speaker off politely. One technique is to use something they’ve said as a jumping off point and spin it positively. For example, cut in and say, “Matt, I like what you said about [fill in the blank]. What does everyone else think?”
Confront colleagues privately
If these tactics haven’t worked, it’s time to have the dominant employee’s manager pull them aside. If that’s you, communicate that it’s not that you don’t want to hear from them. Rather, you just want to make sure you and your colleagues get to hear from others, too. Explain that you want to create a space where everyone feels welcome to participate. Lay out how this is hard to do when one person always jumps in first. If they tend to interrupt, politely point out that you love their enthusiasm but they need to let colleagues finish talking before chiming in.
Don’t allow interruptions
It’s frustrating if you’re often getting cut off by a dominating personality and the manager isn’t doing anything about it. If you feel comfortable doing so, when you’re interrupted say, “Sorry, I wasn’t done, I’d like to finish my thought” or “Excuse me [name], I was almost finished” rather than letting the interrupter continue.
Other options for managing team dynamics with a dominating personality
If these strategies don’t work and someone’s behavior is truly harmful, it may be wise to ask HR to intervene. If not, or if that’s not effective, it could be time to consider if this is the right work environment for you. When coworkers are repeatedly inconsiderate, there’s nothing wrong with finding a more harmonious workplace.
There’s no question that confronting the issue of a dominant employee can feel uncomfortable. But it’s crucial in order to restore harmony on your team. It’s a common issue that many of the companies we work with at RallyBright face. Addressing it benefits your work culture and creates a safer environment for others to contribute.
Keep in mind that most dominating employees likely have good intentions. Tackling this issue head-on will not only benefit their teammates, but will also help that employee strengthen their listening and team-building skills and in doing so, meet with greater professional success themselves.