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Communication challenges: The Dominator

As the leader of a team or coalition, you are often a “master facilitator.”  There will always be people who are easy to lead and facilitate and others who are challenging.  In my experience, there may only be one challenging person; however, it takes quite a bit more effort to handle that one person than it does 15 easy people!  Over the next five weeks, we are going to look more closely at common communication challenges and ways to positively address these challenges. This week, we are beginning with the challenge of the “Dominator.”

When working with teams, I’ve discovered that the dominator may or may not realize that she is dominating.  Many dominators have good intentions. They may have expertise, experience and/or passion and want to contribute to the collective goals of the team. They are excited about the implementation strategy and want to meaningfully contribute.  Other dominators are insecure and fearful trying to prove their worth and maintain their influence through control and manipulation. While it is definitely easier to work with the first type of dominator, both types can be detrimental to the team overall and need to be addressed in order to encourage continued participation in your team, workgroup, nonprofit or coalition.  

Here are 3 ways to positively and proactively handle the “dominator.”

  1. Set expectations. Prior to your next meeting or as part of an orientation process, let your teams know that you want active participation from everyone and that each person’s contribution on the team is valuable and important. Ask team members to limit their discussion and comments to 1-2 minutes (or less) depending upon your situation. Ask each team member to wait until other members have had a chance to comment before providing additional contributions. Let them know that you will graciously redirect the conversation if needed to ensure input from everyone.
  2. Ask for input from others. If you are only receiving input from one or two people, be willing to ask for specific input from those who have not yet responded. Call them by name.  You could try something like this: “Susie, I know that you probably have some good insight related to this topic, what are your thoughts?” or “Howard, I haven’t heard your perspective yet. Do you think we are headed in the right direction.”  If the same person has been speaking several times, be willing to graciously let her know that you appreciate her input and will be asking for additional comments and thoughts from other team members. “Jolene, I really appreciate your active participation in the discussion. Let’s see if others have some recommendations. Susie or Howard?” Also, don’t give in to them even if they are jumping up and down or standing in their chair (yes, I’ve had dominators do this during a meeting).  By continuing to focus on the input of others even when the dominator is growing increasingly impatient, you teach the group that you are serious about the value of everyone’s input.
  3. Talk with them offline. If these two ideas don’t work, schedule a meeting to talk with her in person. Thank her for her active participation and get her feedback on the team overall. Provide an opportunity to listen to her perspective. Remind her that you appreciate her contributions and also share with her that you are concerned that other people do not have an opportunity to contribute as frequently. Enlist her to help you increase engagement from other team members!   

What about you? Have any of these three ideas worked for you in handling the “dominator.”

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Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

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