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(I'm told that) I'm a rather dominant person in a work environment. This is a known and outspoken issue since my superior is a distant but long term friend of mine (20 years plus). From time to time I get his "complaint" that I'm not giving him the required respect. When I ask if he can give me more specific hits he struggles and refers to general explanations basically telling me to be more sensible.

Of course, my actions are never meant in disrespect but I understand how they could appear disrespectful (from his view). However when I asked a close colleague he didn't confirm my friend's assessment. I only asked once so this could be by accident.

This issue didn't come up for quite some time, so I can't repeat/paraphrase his previous comments anymore. But today I said something (don't remember what exactly, something about me being less dominant) and his response was "that he doesn't know me as a person who is not dominant, he just knows situations where I'm less dominant." I'll have to raise this issue again (or wait for the next complaint) to give you a more specific version of his "explanations".

What would be a good way to approach this? I'm to solve this by changing my behaviour (I'm not planning to change his perception even if it is off unless it will be off no matter what I do).

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  • 1
    You're probably going to get a lot of answers like "don't do that", which really aren't helpful. To get some more useful answers, listing one or two of those behaviors might be of value. Also, a culture/country tag would help- different cultures have different power distances so that should be taken into account. May 27 at 18:05
  • Thank you, I added a country tag, what's a culture tag?
    – Albin
    May 27 at 18:14
  • @Albin both country and culture tags are 'the same' on this site, though 'country' is probably the more appropriate term for it. Knowing a country gives a global context of culture, though we do realize within countries cultures can change a lot too :) Could you also edit in one or two of the 'generic explanations' your coworker gives you? It would help people verify whether the current answer addresses your situation or if it is assuming too much when it comes to 'generic explanations' and what they entail.
    – Tinkeringbell
    May 27 at 18:38
  • @Tinkeringbell please see the update to my question (third paragraph)
    – Albin
    May 27 at 18:50
  • Thank you! :-) I think that works for now. If you do remember anything more specific though, don't hesitate to edit further.
    – Tinkeringbell
    May 27 at 18:55
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It's not possible to intentionally change something if you don't know what you're trying to change.

From time to time, I get similar feedback.

"Hey, you're too {adjective}, and you {verb} a lot. Can you stop?"
"Do I? Can you give an example?"
"I don't remember any specific cases right now, but you do it a lot."

There are two problems here:

  1. There's nothing concrete for me to work off of
  2. There's (obviously)* no shared understanding of my behaviour, so misunderstandings are likely.

Therefore, there's no actionable course of action for me here. Thus, I always reply:

"Okay, well, the next time it comes up, please let me know."

Half the time, the person never brings me an example, and I conclude that they were just blowing smoke. Hence, ignore (or just repeat my request for an example if it's someone I can't ignore).

A third of the time, the person does bring up an example, but it turns out to be due to a misunderstanding on one or both of our sides, leading to a miscommunication. Hence, clarify the misunderstanding and move on - problem solved.

The rest of the time, it's a legitimate issue, and now that I have a concrete example, it's much easier for me to go about examining and altering my behaviour accordingly.

*Just in case it's not obvious - if there were a shared understanding, then both I and the complainer know exactly what I'm doing that they take issue with... which is not the situation the OP is in.

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  • Thanks for the answer, I tried your approach but the problem is the other person willing but unable to give me an answer (but the other persons assessment is correct, I do get perceived as dominant - regardless of if I actually am dominant).
    – Albin
    May 31 at 13:30
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    I don't agree entirely. If they can give you a specific example to work with, awesome. But even if not, if this is a recurring criticism, it is entirely possible to keep this info in the back of your mind and ask yourself if your interactions can be interpreted as aggressive (dominant doesn't mean too much in this context). By not making an effort until specific examples are leveraged, you're putting the onus of change on other people, this is unfair to them. I.E. it's not anybody else's job to change your behavior, it's yours.
    – Touniouk
    Jun 17 at 8:56
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Find out what you are doing wrong.

  • Are you loud? Then don't shout.
  • Do you interrupt other people? Have some respect and let them finish.
  • Do you get too close and invade people's space? Keep back.
  • Do you listen to other people's input and respond to it, or do you keep putting across your own points? Listen and respond before you start.
  • Do you say negative and dismissive things about colleagues? Like "Oh, he's always wrong, she's got no idea, that was a stupid suggestion". Stop doing it.

I work in Germany too, and this is usually a peaceful place to get your work done in peace. As a rule Germany runs on consensus. A colleague who is loud, bossy, rude, or demanding may think he's getting away with it in the short term, but in the long term valuable colleagues will leave or the self-named "dominant" person will crash and burn.

How to find out what the problem is: ask yourself; would I say this to my older relations? Would I like it if someone said this about me? Ask your colleagues if you are being bossy. Listen to their answers. Do not dismiss any input you don't like. If you are perceived as dominant then you probably are behaving in a dominant manner, but you can stop, if you really want.

(I'm not planning to change his perception even if it is off unless it will be off no matter what I do)

Hint: it's not them, it's you.

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  • Thanks for your answer. From your last sentence I assume you think that I think "it's them", this is not the case. I asked myself and I even asked the person in question (as I stated in my question) unfortunately this could not resolve the issue.
    – Albin
    Jun 11 at 8:40
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    Quod erat demonstrandum.
    – RedSonja
    Jun 14 at 12:48

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