Every team benefits from having a “rock star” colleague with exceptional skills who can be counted on to produce solutions to complex problems. But when an alpha personality in the group also dominates discussions and decisions, it can stifle input from other colleagues, restrain collaboration, and ultimately hurt morale.
In such circumstances, how can everyone collaborate effectively? Here are eight ways to work well with a dominant colleague.
Understand Your Tendencies
Taking a behavioral assessment, such as the Predictive Index (PI), can tell you whether you have high-dominance or low-dominance traits. If you’re low dominance and therefore tend to submit or try to avoid upsetting a dominant colleague, it reinforces their behavior and yours. However, even if this is the case, all is not lost. The important thing is that you do something to break the cycle.
Leverage Emotional Intelligence
Take time to understand what is driving your teammate’s behavior, advised Vinita Bansal, founder of Tech Tello and author of “Upgrade Your Mindset.”
Is it their desire to be in control, lack of patience, or simple arrogance? Knowing what drives and motivates them can help you present your ideas in a way that makes them feel good, in control, and in a winning position. Even better, it makes them less likely to brush you aside and more likely to pay attention to what you have to say.
Use Questioning Techniques
When you want to contribute to an idea, ask for your teammate’s advice instead of sharing it as a suggestion. For instance: “What do you think about this approach?” Giving advice makes a dominant teammate feel important; there’s a higher chance they’ll pay attention to what you have to say.
When you disagree with them, instead of saying they're wrong, ask questions to help them evaluate alternative opinions. Saying "you're wrong" will instantly put them on the defensive, whereas asking questions will make them curious; they’ll make more effort (hopefully) to see things from your point of view.
Stand Up for Yourself
Sometimes a domineering teammate isn’t fully aware of the impact they have on the team, explained Leigh Espy, a certified project manager, coach and creator of the “Project Bliss” blog.
They may become more aware of their behaviors if you set boundaries and emphasize letting all team members voice opinions. Espy suggests that you say something like: “Jim, you’re making some great points, but I have a different perspective that I think the team should consider.”
If your dominant colleague interrupts, say, “Let me finish.” Also, don’t get emotional; stay calm and factual, even if your colleague gets angry. If tempers seem to run particularly high, ask your manager or another senior executive to help mediate.
Use the ‘Broken Record’ Technique
If a dominant individual raises their voice or tries to intimidate you, use the broken record technique of repeating your message factually in a firm, neutral tone. Staying calm and maintaining a neutral response is the best way to effect behavioral change when a dominant colleague dismisses your ideas.
It also helps to think about what you want to say ahead of time. You're less likely to freeze up or get flustered if you're well-prepared and rehearse how you want to react to a particular situation.
Take a Team Approach
If a controlling or dominant team member intimidates team members, consider broaching the subject during a retrospective. Ask if everyone feels comfortable sharing their opinions during meetings, and if not, what the team can do to invite open discussions.
Also, ask the team to rate its overall health and adherence to Scrum values (commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect). A retrospective is an opportunity for the team to evaluate and create a plan for improvement.
Schedule a One-On-One
If your attempts at dealing with the situation fail, you need to make your colleague aware of how their behavior is impacting you and the team. Explain that you want to create a collaborative environment where everyone feels welcome to participate. Make it clear that this is hard to do when one person always jumps in first and dominates the conversation.
“Be specific about their behavior without blaming them or damaging their ego,” Espy said. They will be less likely to get defensive.
Become a Better Leader
Even if you don’t have a formal title or managerial authority, you can still help redirect a one-sided discussion. Show respect by paraphrasing what the outspoken teammate said. Then, give others the chance to weigh in by stating that it’s important for all to contribute. If your teammates seem hesitant, call on them. It only takes one person to get the ball rolling.