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.
Review the OnDemand webinar: Diagnosing Power Dynamics Around Your Project