How to Deal with Aggressive/Dominant Executives
Out of the different types of executives you will find, dealing with very aggressive or dominant ones is very important.
… especially because these are the type of people who blow up negotiations on a whim.
When dealing with extremely assertive and dominant people, you need to be the “adult” in the room that calms down their emotions and keeps them happy.
While still trying to get what you need from them.
What an easy task, huh?
In order to deal with dominants, we first have to talk about their Influence Archetype.
The Dominant’s Mind
The Dominant is one of the four Influence Archetypes. In short, people can be logical or emotional, and fast or slow. The Dominant, in specific, is what I call the quadrant with fast, logical people.
And this makes the person have very specific language and behavior patterns:
- Dominants always cut to the chase. Trying to build a relationship with them on a personal level is near useless. They are extremely transactional by nature;
- Given their combination of being transactional with being fast, they do not care about long-term alliances. They want to get as much as possible right now, and don’t care about the future;
- In specific, Dominants are very competitive. Therefore, the best way to persuade them is to show them how they win by doing your ask. And even more than that, showing them what they win that others don’t;
- Related to the previous point, Dominants like to, well, assert dominance. Therefore, they love to make other people kiss the ring. Which is why verbalizing respect for their importance and their time is paramount to a good negotiation. If they don’t feel respected, there is no negotiation;
Naturally, some people will be able to easily gel with Dominant executives, while some will have a harder time. This has to do with their Influence Archetypes. In specific:
- Passionates (focused on the vision and big picture) are fast and emotional. So they have the fast component in common with Dominants. They only need to be more logical to connect with them;
- Analysts (focused on processes and numbers) are slow and logical. They have the logical in common. They only need to summarize more to connect with Dominants;
- Nurturers (focused on helping and supporting others) are the most distant (actually, the polar opposite) of Dominants and present the biggest challenge. They are slow and emotional, while Dominants are fast and logical. Therefore, they work in perfectly opposite manners;
- The Nurturer focuses on the people instead of the tasks, while to speak in a Dominant’s language, they have to do the opposite;
- Dominants themselves are a great fit… at least in theory. Being both fast and logical, they speak in the same language and can connect very easily. The only problem is that, due to egos and dominance, they can also easily become enemies;
Knowing your starting point defines how well you probably already connect with Dominants.
To deal with Dominants, there are several techniques that can work. But in specific, there are four simple persuasion techniques (taken from my Ultimate Persuasion Psychology 58) that can help.
(Technically, if you include the Influence Archetypes, we have 5 in total):
The persuasion principle of Streamlining is very easy. 2/3 of the total effort we make is mental effort (as evidenced in The Effortless Experience).
Therefore, if you simply reduce the mental effort associated with something, you make it seem easier to do. And so people do it.
You probably experience this everyday. Web applications saying it’s “fast” and “easy” to subscribe. Video courses or memberships claiming “instant access” when you purchase. Presenters such as the late Steve Jobs saying “I have just 3 things to speak about today”.
You can use the same with Dominants.
In short, they hate to waste time. They hate to get bogged down in the details and they want to make this happen here and now.
So, the more that you can make things seem fast and easy, the more likely they are to accept them.
Because to them, time is money, and they don’t want to waste money.
Of course, you don’t need to lie. Don’t say a 3-month project that needs them will just take 2 months. But do say that it’s “fast” and “easy” to give their support, that meetings will be “short” and “simple”, and/or that the project will be “simple and easy to support”.
You can even combine this with respecting them or showing them how they win. “Because I know your time is valuable, we only need your involvement in short and simple meetings. You save time and maximize your impact”.
2. Giving with a Sacrifice
Giving is a very powerful persuasion technique to create reciprocity. And there are specific accelerators that make it more powerful.
For example, one of these accelerators is giving first (make the other side owe you something before they make you owe something). Another one is giving with a sacrifice (verbalize how much this giving costs you to make the other side value it more).
But with Dominants, there’s one problem. They are immune to reciprocity.
In short, you give and give and give, and they will take it all, and assume they will give you nothing back. They just feel entitled.
“So, Vasco”, you may ask, “why the hell do we still give?”. Well, for a completely different purpose.
To make them feel like they are winning something.
In short, the Dominant wants you to think that they “suckered” you into a deal.
So if you appear to be making a concession, they will like you more just because they think you are losing while they win.
If you trying to get support from a project and need 2 FTEs from a Dominant, don’t start at 2. Ask for 3 (or more) and make them believe they suckered you into getting 2.
While in reality… you suckered them into feel good, and making this happen for you.
The same for any negotiation. Start with a higher price. Make demands you don’t need. And be prepared to strip them all to the essential things you wanted in the first place.
The Dominant will be glad to (at least believe they can) force you do it.
Empathy is crucial to calm down emotional people. And Dominants get emotional frequently enough.
Although this may seem insulting, I’m still going to say it because it’s true: most Dominants are like children.
They will blow up a whole negotiation if a small detail is not according to what they want.
And make no mistake, negotiating with Dominants is the hardest of the four types of negotiation.
They will take, demand, give nothing back, demand more, and literally pout or start attacking you the moment things don’t go 100% their way.
Which is why empathy is so important.
In this specific definition, with “empathy” I mean verbalizing the situation or what they are thinking at that moment:
“I know you must be frustrated that this is not going as you want”
“I know you must think I’m not valuing your time — or even you as a person”
“I know you believe you deserve more and you think I’m lowballing you”
You don’t have to agree with them, you just have to show understanding.
Empathy is great to decrease amygdala activation and increase prefrontal cortex activation. Or removing the biology-speak, empathy makes emotional people logical.
Up to a point, they literally lose the capability to feel those emotions.
So, whenever a Dominant is about to blow up, or blowing up, simply remain calm and verbalize what you think they are thinking or feeling.
And slowly, they will stop being emotional and come back to the realm of logic.
(A caveat/disclaimer here: some Dominants are just plain abusive. And nobody should have to tolerate that. The focus of the article here is not on tolerating abuse if it’s happening — you should have zero tolerance for that. The goal of the article is, in case you have an emotional person across the table, and you consciously and actively are willing to deal with them, then and only then, this is how you do it. But this article does NOT condone tolerating bullying or abuse in any form)
4. Neutralizing their Situational Advantage
There’s one shifty, devious little technique that is an absolute persuasion superweapon. And that is neutralizing the person’s situational advantage.
This is very useful for Dominants, and even more so if they are your superior (or have power over you in some way), such as being a shareholder, or being a CEO when you’re a different executive.
What you do is, you simply ask permission for them to neutralize their power.
For example, saying, “John, would it be OK if, for a moment, we just forgot our titles and achievements, and just spoke man-to-man/woman-to-woman?”.
I know, this sounds deceptively simple. But it works very well.
In short, you are politely asking for the person to drop all of their situational power and treat you like an equal. And in almost all cases, they simply agree to do it.
This is especially important for when the other side is leveraging their dominance or authority. By giving you their permission, they are the ones taking their power away and limiting themselves.
Conclusion: Dealing with Aggressive Executives
Aggressive and dominant executives present some of the trickiest roadblocks to executive persuasion. They will take everything they can and provide nothing in return. And in many cases, they will easily turn emotional.
The techniques presented can help soften the power dynamic (and the person themselves), while speaking their language and giving them the illusion of winning to be able to persuade them to achieve a joint outcome.