Extremely Dominant People

Because dominant people crave power and success, which often bring fame or notoriety, there are many prominent examples: John Wayne, General Patton, football coach Vince Lombard! (“Winning isn’t the most important thing; it is everything.”), N.Y. Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner (One of his limited partners once said, “Nobody is more limited than his limited partners.”), Donald Trump (“You’re fired!).

General Characteristics: They nearly always push and take control. They are excessively competitive and must win at everything. Business, golf, even cocktail parties are con­tests. They need to make more money, have a lower handicap, and score more points at parties. As Donald Trump put it, “My whole life is about winning… I almost never lose.”

Status-consciousness is a natural part of their competitiveness. When they meet a stranger, they want to know: “Am I better than he is? Do I make more money, own a larger house, play better golf? Is my spouse better looking? Are my children smarter?”

They are ambitious, tough, aggressive, manipulative, overbearing, closed-minded, and anti-intellectual.

They are usually insensitive and very poor listeners, partly because they don’t really care what most other people think. They’ll listen to the few people they respect, but the hell with everyone else. This indifference comes from their feelings of superiority and belief that only powerful, successful people have anything worthwhile to say. Since they feel contempt for most people, they often interrupt them.

Since everything is a contest, they can’t afford to think about abstract subjects or other people’s feelings. It would distract their attention from the only goal that matters – winning.

Their insensitivity primarily concerns other people’s feelings. They are often extremely sensitive to the things they really care about: money, power, and other people’s MSP. Some of them possess an “instinct for the jugular,” an almost uncanny sense of where other people are weak and how hard to push them.

Since winning is so important, they may cut corners. They may dislike lying and cheating, but a few actually prefer to win dishonestly. It shows that the rules that inhibit lesser people don’t apply to them. Most would prefer not to cheat because it taints their victory, but a tainted victory is infinitely better than a defeat. Because they will do anything to win, they assume others will do the same. They naturally distrust other people.

They are often impatient and inattentive to details. They regard details as beneath them, something for lesser beings to consider, and they regard their time as so valuable that they resent wasting it, even on essential social rituals, understanding other people, and other valuable tasks.

They are independent and individualistic. Taking orders, accepting advice, following procedures or even obeying the law are kinds of defeats. They insist on doing things their way and may deliberately break rules. Cornelius Vanderbilt, a nineteenth century Robber Baron (ruthless tycoon), once said, “What do I care about law? Ain’t I got the power?”

Fears:  They are afraid of losing, of weakness in themselves, and of being dependent on other people. Psychiatrists have coined a term for them, “counter-dependent.” Some dominant people are so counter-dependent, so afraid of looking or feeling weak that they can’t ask for help, accept advice, or admit mistakes. A few of them literally kill themselves by playing five sets of tennis or working too hard a short time after a heart attack.

Hidden question: We all have hidden questions about other people. We want to know, “Are you my kind of person?” To answer that question, we may test people repeatedly.

Extremely dominant people’s hidden question is: Are you good enough to do business with me? (Because I do business only with people like me, the best). It can be phrased in many ways. “What’s your title?” “Did you make quota last year?” “Where do you live?” “What kind of car do you drive?”

To answer that question, they play games. They test your toughness by keeping you waiting, interrupting you, taking outrageous positions, or just being rude. If you let them get away with it, they often decide that you’re too weak to bother with.

I once failed that sort of test. After a few years as a professor at UCLA and Carnegie-Mellon, I had become a visiting research fellow at The Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, the world’s oldest Catholic University. In Europe professors receive extreme deference.

While interviewing me for a consulting assignment, the prospective client said, “You’ve got the right background, Schoonmaker (not Mr., Dr., or Professor, the only polite forms of address between strangers, especially in Europe). But the problem is that you’re a whore. You’ll work for anyone, and we have some very sensitive information here.”

If I had become indignant, he almost certainly would have apologized. Instead, because I was young and eager for the business, I said, “I can see how you would be worried about confidentiality.”

I lost two ways. I never got any business from him, and now, many years later, I’m still a little angry at him and at myself!

Attitude Toward Negotiations: Many dominant people love them. They see them as a game, a competition, a challenge, even a “war.” Because they think, “All’s fair in love and war,” they try to win as completely and visibly as possible. They don’t just want to win; they want you and others to know that you lost.

Since they understand and know how to use power, they enjoy and excel at power-based, pure bargaining. They find its inherent conflicts stimulating and exciting. Their attitude produces both strengths and weaknesses.

Negotiating Strengths: Their greatest strength is their love for the game. Other types of people avoid negotiations or rush through them, while they eagerly play the game.

They excel in adversarial negotiations, such as bitter labor-management bargaining, price negotiations, or emotionally-charged litigations. Wherever power is the deciding factor, they have a huge advantage. Other people dislike these negotiations, while they love them.

They are comfortable with conflict and its associated emotions. They often excel at using the Law of Irrationality. They have few, if any, qualms about using extreme demands, aggression, and anger as tools to intimidate or sway an opponent. Stalling, stonewalling, and devious tactics to squeeze one final concession are natural actions for them, while most people can’t or won’t act that way.

As we noted earlier, they often have a great instinct for the jugular. They sense where other people are weak and just how far they can be pushed. They will push right to the limit, getting virtually every penny on the table.

They generally position themselves well. They build their power well in advance, while less power-oriented people neglect positioning. They create lots of bargaining and trading room by making ambitious, even outrageous, offers.

They are best during the End Game because its demands match their strengths. They have probably built a strong position and have a fairly clear idea of the other side’s strengths, weaknesses, and limits. The End Game’s tension bothers most people, but they thrive on it. They often make those final few minutes very profitable. They “hang tough,” bluff well, and enjoy going right to the brink of a deadlock. Since other people can’t handle the tension and won’t fight so hard, they often get last-minute concessions.

Negotiating Weaknesses: The preceding description may imply that they are natural negotiators, but they excel only at pure bargaining. They are ter­rible at satisfying other people’s needs, working together to solve joint problems, and building long-term, trusting relationships.

They lack sensitivity and balance. They bargain, even when they should be problem-solving. They have to win, even if a victory costs them more than it’s worth. They may fight to win symbolic conflicts or push the other side too hard, thereby damaging or destroying the relationship. They often try to push past the other’s limit, thereby losing both the deal and the relationship.

Their extreme competitiveness often prevents them from creating the trust, cooperation, and open communication needed to solve joint problems. The win-win nature of problem-solving is alien to them; they respond to it the way the Boston Celtics would react to the suggestion that they make a game more interesting by giving the Los Angeles Lakers a few easy baskets.

It goes against their grain to make good will concessions or accept less than they can get. They see compromises, not as a means to reach a mutually satisfying deal or to build good will, but as signs of weakness. They may refuse to make some essential compromises or make them in such a grudging way that other people resent it.

Their concept of giving is to toss a crumb. They may pretend to cooperate to deceive their opponent, but sooner or later, most people can see through such ploys.

Their extreme competitiveness frequently creates stubbornness. They make the Law of Irrationality work against them: People can become so upset that they refuse to make concessions they had originally intended, and they may even walk away from a profitable deal. “I’d rather lose money than let that SOB run over me.”

They often consider only one strategy, and they may continue with it long after it should have been discarded or modified. Changing strategies can be seen as admitting that the original strategy was a mistake, and they won’t admit mistakes.

They often over-simplify negotiations. If pushing doesn’t get the right results, they push harder. Almost thirty years ago Donald Trump said, “My style of deal making is quite simple and straightforward.  I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.”[1]

If people don’t agree with their position, they repeat it, but speak more forcefully. They say, sometimes very directly, “Since you’re too stupid to understand my obviously correct position, I’ll repeat it using simpler words that you can understand.”

Their insensitivity creates many problems. A major reason for their failure in mixed negotiations is that they often don’t know or care about what others want. They can’t fit together a mutually satisfactory deal because they are too insensitive, too talkative, and too weak at listening to understand and respond to the other side’s signals.

Their impatience and poor attention to details can cause serious problems. They may rush into an agreement without fully understanding its implications. They may sign an agreement that’s so vague and general that serious implementation problems are inevitable.

The End Game, which is often their greatest strength, can also be the time they make their worst mistakes. They can get so committed to winning that they push too far. Either the negotiations break down, or the other side feels so defeated that they ache for revenge, don’t implement the agreement well, or decide not to do any future business. They win the battle, but lose the war.

Best Way To Approach Them: Be dominant, but not confrontational. Prove that you’re tough and competent, but don’t overdo it. Don’t let them push you around, but don’t try to push them too far. Show that you’re a winner who deserves their respect, but show respect for them.

Relate directly and respectfully to their success and toughness, but show that you’re also tough and successful. Never grovel or beg. Use strong, assertive words and gestures. Don’t smile too much or spend much time on small talk. They regard smiles and small talk as signs of weakness or frivolity. Get right down to business and move briskly. Talk rapidly, in short sentences, and avoid details. Relate as one “big picture” person to another.

Establish a powerful position before the negotiations because they will probably test you and your position. Create lots of bargaining by making an ambitious first offer. Then trade small concessions. Don’t move too quickly or too easily. Never give them anything in the hope they will appreciate your gift and reciprocate. They’ll probably see it as a sign of weakness and become even more demanding.

Fight them, but do it in a good humored, sporting way. It’s just part of the game.

[1] “Flashy symbol of an acquisitive age: Donald Trump,” TIME, January 16, 1989.

(This article is an excerpt from my forthcoming Kindle book Negotiate to Win: Gaining the Psychological Edge. Amazon will soon sell it for $2.99, but you can get it free by clicking here.)