Dealing with domineering people

Q:  Where does the 300-pound gorilla sit at a party?
A:  Anywhere she wants.


If you have not attended the live workshops, please watch the videos in order, as they build on each other. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

Video 1

  • What are you currently doing when faced with a domineering person?
  • Why are you doing that?
  • Are your current strategies working?

Key takeaways: 

  • Domineering = Control "Plus" ... arranging your circumstances so you get the outcome you wish, in a way that is overpowering and hurtful.
  • We react to domineering behavior with Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Collapse (stress reactions). We do this to keep ourselves safe, but stress reactions do not accomplish that purpose.

Video 2

  • What would you like to do instead?
  • What is holding you back from doing that?
  • Centering

Key takeaways: 

  • Standing up to domineering people – and their potential reaction – may threaten our identity and/or our wellbeing.
  • We are often too stressed and/or too unsafe to do something productive about domineering behavior.
  • Stress reactions (and the underlying emotions of fear, anger, numbness, and resignation) are actions we do in our body. We can choose to do something different: keeping our posture and breathing stable, open, and relaxed, and smiling in our heart (Centering).
  • Centering counteracts the Fight / Flight / Freeze / Collapse reactions.
  • Centering is not the solution; it is the basis for finding a solution if one is available. Then we have to do something!

Video 3

  • Is it comfortable and familiar for you to set boundaries?
  • Where do you place your Stop sign? Does your Stop sign say “Stop” or “Hello”?
  • How do you feel about having a backup plan?

Video 4

  • How does your posture and muscle tension impact your voice?
  • What is the direction of your No?
  • Where does your No land?

Video 5

  • Holding up a Stop sign vs. a Detour sign
  • What DO you want?
  • Get the domineering person interested in changing their behavior. "Oh look, over there!"

Key takeaways: 

  • Holding up a Stop sign / saying No / telling the domineering person what you DON’T want is not a long-term solution.
  • Put up a Detour sign: Tell them what you DO want!
  • To get the domineering person interested in taking a detour, YOU have to be interested first. What are you saying Yes to?

Video 6

  • To be in charge or not to be in charge - is there a question?
  • What is the purpose of domineering behavior?

Key takeaways: 

  • Being in charge has many benefits. Not being in charge poses a potential threat to our identity and wellbeing.
  • People resort to domineering behavior because they want to keep themselves safe.
  • Our best chance of influencing their behavior is to show them a better way to be safe.

Video 7

  • How do you influence a domineering person?
  • Help them feel safe. Don’t be a threat.
  • Suggest a better way for them to be safe.

Key takeaways: 

  • Domineering people are stressed (usually they are in Fight mode). It is in your best interest to help them feel safer and less stressed - they will be more willing and able to hear what you have to say.
  • Don’t be a threat by how you are: don’t be in Fight mode. Center yourself! You will feel less threatened by them, they will feel less threatened by you, and they may “mirror” your centered state.
  • Don’t be a threat by what you do: get on their side by finding something you have in common, ideally a common goal. At the very least, acknowledge their goal. Give them less reasons to defend themselves.
  • Reframe: You Against Me --- You & Me Against the Problem.
  • Show them a better way to be safe: Use “power with” instead of “power over”. Be clear about what you want. Get their “buy-in”. Make them think it was their idea. Get them interested in what YOU want by pointing out the benefits to THEM.

Video 8

  • How can you influence a domineering person?
  • MAKE IT SAFE for them to change.
  • First and foremost: Don't be a threat by how you are.

Key takeaways: 

  • “Responding in kind” or “fighting back” usually starts a power struggle, which is rarely helpful.
  • If someone is unaware of their domineering behavior, forcefully “waking them up” can backfire. It is generally preferable to bring attention to their behavior in a non-threatening manner.
  • Center yourself and be a calming influence.
  • Invite a conversation. Make it inviting to have that conversation.

Video 9

  • Don't be a threat with what you say or do.
  • Are you a threat to yourself?

Key takeaways: 

  • Are you increasing your suffering?
  • How you think about and talk to yourself about a person and their domineering behavior impacts how threatened you feel by them, how much of your best self you can bring to your interactions with them, and how effective you can be in dealing with their behavior.
  • Not helpful: negative judgments and labeling the person or their personality traits; focusing on the status quo and what you DON’T want; "Me against Them" attitude; painting yourself as a helpless victim.
  • More helpful: describing the domineering behavior; curiosity; humor; focusing on the future and what you DO want; "Me & Them against The Problem" attitude; seeing yourself as an empowered participant who has options.
  • If you tense or collapse or feel closed off when you think or talk about someone: REFRAME.
  • Reframing is NOT condoning, sugarcoating, or diminishing the domineering behavior. Reframing is seeing the behavior for what it is, without making the situation worse for yourself.

Video 10

  • Don’t be a threat with what you say or do.
  • Are you a threat to the other person?

Key takeaways: 

  • Whatever is threatening or distasteful to the other person – don’t do that!
  • Be especially careful to not threaten their identity or wellbeing.
  • Talk to them about their domineering behavior in private.

Video 11

  • MAKE IT MOTIVATING for them to change.
  • MAKE IT EASY for them to behave differently.

Key takeaways: 

  • Make it motivating for the other person, so it’s worth the effort and risk for them to behave differently.
  • Make it easy for the other person to do what you ask. Don’t make them do a lot of work – present alternatives they can easily implement. Help them do what you want.

Video 12

  • Applying the principles to a verbal interaction.
  • Are you manipulating the other person?

Key takeaways: 

  • When you influence someone to change their domineering behavior, you are manipulating them in the best possible way: You are encouraging and inspiring a more effective and caring way for them to act, which benefits both you and them.
  • When you talk to someone about changing their domineering behavior, focus on principles rather than getting lost in the details.
  • Remember that different people may use the same words differently and may give a very different meaning to the same words. If your words are not received the way you intended, clarify.
  • Don’t agonize over using the “best” way or “the” way to say something. There are many different – and equally appropriate – ways to express what you want to convey.
  • Rather than copying techniques, find and use your own words.
  • Influencing other people is like a continuous science experiment: Center yourself, do your best with what you say and do, and then see what happens. If you get the result you want, great! If not, try something different.
  • If your efforts to influence a domineering person don’t bear fruit, don't be discouraged. Celebrate yourself for becoming more skilled at life and being a positive role model for those around you.