Project Management

Domination in the Workplace

From the An Influential Project Manager Blog
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Once, at an airport, I had an interesting experience of domination which later provided much food for thought — and interesting parallels with workplace domination..

In a queue, the guy behind me was huge. Those who’ve met me know that I am not exactly small, but this man was massive, at well over six feet and I’d imagine around 30 stone (190 kg). As we stood in line, he used his bulk to begin intimidating me with his physical presence. Quite why I can only guess, but there were many little nudges from his belly, horse play with his tribe of minions and even the occasional breathing down my neck.

Whatever his reasons, I wasn’t going to budge or appear intimidated (even though, I’ll admit, it made me feel very uncomfortable).

Occasionally, after a nudge I would slowly turn to make it clear I was irritated, and I’d catch him not quite looking at me. Noticing I stood ready to act if I choose to do so. Perhaps waiting for me to make the first move, I don’t know.

As the queue progressed I became increasingly concerned for the small boy who should have been between us, but had been pushed to the sidelines, looking very anxious.

As I reflected later, it seemed clear that this chap was making his physical superiority abundantly clear to everyone around him although stopping short of overt aggression. He was using a variety of non-verbal acts to convey this. When I link this to the personal power sources and the components of power, he not only had clear physical assets, but was also putting them into action with force in an attempt to intimidate/influence others.

Yet he also appeared to be heavily (excuse the pun) reliant on his physical assets. This left him exposed if his primary source failed — while also creating potential enemies! Those who rely on dominating others in the workplace are often similarly exposed, even vulnerable.

The other point which struck home to me was how it is possible to succeed with these characters if you apply a little intelligence and resist the “flight” response. Once I had got my food, I turned and found him blocking my exit. With a level gaze and calm, firm voice, I simply said, “Excuse me” — not please, just “excuse me”. He almost jumped out of my way and I strode through.


Using the parlance of the Personal Power Profilc, he was using Presence (Size and Proximity) and Character (Intimidating). I made use of Credibility (Expression), Presence (Confidence/Posture), Skills (Body Language/Dialogue), to influence him out of my way.

Fortunately, the little boy used an alternative approach and went around the mountain, which is just as valid when you act in awareness.

The point here is that when you have to deal with overly dominant people, you need to have lots of other power sources to call into action. Trying to overpower them with their own dominant source of power is gong to be hard work, and potentially dangerous. The more sources of power you can develop, the more adept you will become at turning these situations/people around, without spilling any ...

Update: After I originally wrote this, a subscriber told me of a similar situation he had observed, where the one pushing his weight around was suddenly exposed to a loud and humourous remark from a wizened old man in the vicinity. The muffled giggles embarrassed the Goliath who at that point was dreadfully exposed. Not only did he become the laughing stock, he couldn’t do anything about it. Hh quietly shrank and went on his way. Tables can be turned so easily when you know what you are doing.

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Posted on: October 22, 2019 10:23 AM | Permalink

Comments (11)

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Dear Colin
Interesting this your article
Thanks for sharing.
You really need to use your brain to be able to have a win-win relationship with people who are generally win-lose using some personal predicate and / or position in the organization.

You certainly do @luis, you certainly do!

A slightly different slant on this is that it is interesting how some people effectively play by (make up?) rules that advantage them. They are often are highly offended when other people recognise this and refuse to play by those rules.

What you have described is bullying and we should all be trained with skills to deal with disrespect of any kind. The experience you described in the airport is similar to experiences we will face in project management - often the bully will back down when you stand your ground. Thank you for sharing!

What a great article, reminds me of an incident today, a large powerful SUV came shooting up behind me on a very busy single road, the bumper almost touching my tailgate, trying to force me to either speed up (over the speed limit) or pull over, closer and closer, so I took my foot of the gas and began a slow decent in speed.... the guy in the SUV had no-where to go, realised I was not going to be intimidated into his way of driving and he eventually pulled back... maybe he was en-route to the airport Colin.... many thanks for sharing

Lovely example Julie, and yes Lori, this is bullying in no uncertain terms. A bully cannot survive with out a victim, no matter how big their SUV!
I've done a lot of work in this area over the years, and one clinical psychologist with 35 years experience (and specialist in corporate psychopatics) descirbed my first book as the first text she had seen which explained exactly what bullies do in terms that victims can easily grasp, understand and then do something about. That book is called 21 Dirty Tricks at Work if you want to look it up.

Many thanks for mentioning your book, 21 Dirty Tricks at Work, I certainly did look it up and I am currently engrossed, thanks once again for sharing Colin.

Don’t know what others think, sounds like Colin and Lori could be the dynamic duo for the future live expo only hoping it includes this hot topic! Thank you Colin for sharing your valuable thoughts!

Yes, we do need to conscious of our actions and need to know how to cleverly deal with overly dominant people. I think Emotional Intelligence plays key role in these situations. Thank you for sharing.

Thanks for sharing.

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