How to Deal with a Dominant Personality

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on July 29, 2022

Run. Hide. Triple-bolt the door. Declare yourself permanently busy. 

One of these is probably your first response when dealing with one of those people who has to always be right and not only expects you to agree with them, but to do whatever they say while feeling you must hand them your dignity and personal choice on a silver platter.

Unfortunately, sometimes there will be such a person in your life that you just can’t avoid. They could be your co-worker, your boss, your (not so) Great-Aunt Clarice, or your best friend’s boorish boyfriend. 

And, you may be more successful at inventing a time machine than at transforming them into a kinder, gentler, more give-and-take person. So what can you do?

You can look for ways to keep your sanity, your dignity, and your sense of humor, (not to mention your job) while dealing with these types as peacefully as you can.

Here are a few ideas.

Let them “win” when it doesn’t matter too much

A person with a dominant personality feels that they know best, or needs to feel in control.

If the issue isn’t really important, it may be a good idea to just let them have their way, at least on the surface. 

You may sometimes allow them to take the lead or think they’re telling you what to do. Remembering that it’s a choice you’re making, and that the issue isn’t earth-shaking, can help put things in perspective.

Even when you don’t really have a choice about complying – such as when it’s your employer – you can still choose whether or not to make an issue of their manner and you may decide that sometimes you can just let it go.

Reframe the interactions in your mind

Remember, you’re choosing to keep the peace, not letting yourself be dominated, even if that’s how they see it. At the very least, you can remind yourself it’s them, not me. Try not to take it personally.

If you make a conscious choice to humor them when necessary, you’ll feel less powerless and more in control of the situation. Put a smile on your face, be polite because you want to be, listen just as much as you have to to survive, and then get on with your work and life.

Address the facts or the issue at hand, not their manner

To a dominant personality, getting things done, the way they want them done, is more important than manners or peoples’ feelings. But it’s possible that they really don’t know how much they upset other people. 

So try being as matter-of-fact as they are. And if you have an objection, make your argument data-driven rather than emotional.

But also show them how they may be inadvertently upsetting people

If they truly don’t seem to be deliberately stomping all over your feelings, then you might let them know how their behavior affects you or others. Don’t attack or accuse; just give them a mirror to look in, and a graceful way to make adjustments. 

Though it might be easy to assume they don’t care how they affect others, or that they even like making them feel bad, it may be that they aren’t aware of how they come across.

If you give them the benefit of the doubt and show confidence in their goodwill, they just might prove you right and be willing to adjust, at least a little.

Project strength and dignity, without being confrontational

While you may need to appear somewhat yielding at times to manage this type, if you put out a sign announcing you’re a doormat, they’ll gladly stomp all over you. While it's best not to engage in a battle of wills, or to behave the way they do, you do need to show that you respect yourself and expect some respect from them as well. 

Hold yourself erect. Make eye contact. Use language that shows you’re being accommodating, not cowed. Maybe something like: ‘I see your point. I think we can find a way to make that work.’ 

Try to understand why they’re like that

Maybe they had a traumatic childhood, with role models they’re now unconsciously imitating. Or they’re hiding a deep-seated insecurity. Or they could just be so focused on results they don’t even think about the humans they’re interacting with. 

If you try to figure out their reason, this can help in two ways.

First, if you understand what made them this way, it will help you to have some compassion for them, and maybe take some of the sting out of their domineering manner. 

Secondly, it may also give you insight into how to manage their behavior in a way that works better for you.

Look for their more likable side

It could be that a dominant person has other more likable traits, if you get to know them better. 

Maybe they’re over-focused on efficiency at work because they need to get home on time to care for an elderly parent. If you get them to talk about that, you might see their loving, caring side, and realize how worried they are about their family member. 

Or their lack of a softer side may also mean that they are able to achieve results and make valuable contributions to your team’s efforts in their unique way. And that too-bossy manager may be insecure in his new role and just wants to feel he’s doing a good job. 

Maybe if you can talk with them over a cup of coffee you’ll find that you share a favorite hobby, or they adore their labradoodle, or they’ve lived in a country you’ve dreamed of visiting. 

Whatever it is, if you can see them as a multi-faceted human being, it could be easier to overlook their less endearing manners. 

Limit your exposure to them

Though you have to deal with a dominant person at work or family dinners, you might be able to find ways to limit the time you must spend interacting with them.

If it’s a co-worker, you could rearrange your hours, or work in a different part of the office, or get your supervisor to serve as a buffer. If it’s a family member, maybe you just won’t be at all of the events they usually attend, or you can help out in the kitchen, sit at the other end of the table, or play a game they don’t like in another room. 

If all else fails, go over their head

Your boss usually also has a boss, at least in some sense. If they don’t have anyone above them on the authority ladder, there’s still the human resources department, the legal department, or something else to help keep them in check if they truly step out of line.

And that annoying relative who insists on treating you like you’re 5 and forced to obey them probably has at least one other family member that they’re afraid of, or look up to.

So, if you’ve tried whatever else you can think of and they still overstep in a way you can’t live with, find someone who has the power or personality to keep them in check.

Do this selectively, and quietly. You don’t even have to let them know directly that this is what you’re doing. But it will show them that you hold a wild card you'll use if they back you into a corner.

Summary

Sometimes life requires us to deal with someone with a domineering attitude. It may not be easy, but there are ways to keep the peace while not feeling trampled on. It just takes some creativity, perspective, and humor, and an occasional willingness to grin and bear it, while not taking it personally.

Diane Fanucchi

Diane Fanucchi is a freelance writer and Smart-Blogger certified content marketing writer. She lives on California’s central coast in a purple apartment. She reads, writes, walks, and eats dark chocolate whenever she can. A true INFP, she spends more time thinking about the way things should be than what others call the “real” world. You can visit her at www.dianefanucchi.naiwe.com or https://writer.me/diane-fanucchi/.

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.

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