Behavioral Scale Deep Dive: Low Dominance

Dominance: The desire to take control whenever and wherever possible.                    

Opposite to last week’s behavioral scale deep dive, we all know someone who cringes at the thought of having to speak up in a meeting and prefers to quietly do their thing in the background. Here’s how to understand employees with a low dominance score, and manage them in a way that helps them succeed.

Low Dominance 

Meet Adam. Adam likes to sit back in meetings and observe, rarely making a comment in the moment. Instead, he likes to email his manager after the fact with any ideas he may have because he sometimes feels intimidated by the more outgoing and assertive colleagues in group settings. Adam doesn’t usually feel comfortable leading projects and prefers working as part of a team toward a collective goal. He’s great at listening to his team members and always brings a gentle, humble presence to his team. However, sometimes he gets frustrated because he can’t express what he’s thinking and some of his ideas may remain unsaid.

Adam is an example of someone who likely has a low dominance score. He:

  • Prefers to be in the background where he can support the efforts of others.
  • Does not like to be center stage and instead values contribution.
  • Tends to be gentle and unassuming.
  • Is more soft-spoken and is a good listener.
  • Is Humble, patient, and respectful.
  • Prefers to play a supportive role, rather than a leadership role in their relationships.
  • Has difficulty asserting himself and taking charge.
  • Will often become very quiet when other, more assertive people are around.

Tips for Managing Low Scorers:

As we saw in last week’s deep dive on high dominance, some people are just more naturally inclined to be more dominant, and neither trait is necessarily good or bad. Employees with a low dominance score have a harder time expressing their opinions and the idea of being assertive in a group setting may make them anxious or stressed. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t have good ideas to share. Often, low scorers in dominance are keen observers and research shows quiet employees tend to be more reflective, which enhances creative thinking and decision-making. Their self-awareness in social situations means they listen attentively and are masters at reading facial expressions. By being aware of these strengths, a good manager can create a safe space for them to get better at voicing their opinions and asserting themselves in situations they normally wouldn’t which can empower these kind of employees. Here are a few behaviors to encourage them to do:

  • Employees with a low dominance score probably won’t be the first to volunteer feedback or to voice their opinions, so try setting up regular one-on-one meetings with them, which will allow you to establish rapport and create a safe space. The private environment will foster an atmosphere of safety and trust, which can set your employee at ease and help him or her open up in group settings.
  • Ask these employees how they’d feel comfortable contributing in group settings in your one-on-one meetings, and let them know that you will ask for their feedback in meetings once in a while so they have ample time to prepare, plan and practice.
  • Let them know that their voice is just as important as anyone else’s.
  • Thank them for sharing their opinions when they do to reinforce this behavior.
  • Encourage them to voice their opinion at least once daily, in some way or form. Tell them to look people in the eye, lean slightly forward, smile and use a strong voice. This may be time consuming and initially feel uncomfortable to them, but the result will be greater confidence in expressing themself well.
  • Encourage both written and verbal feedback. While encouraging verbal input is important, you may also ask them for written feedback via email etc., which may be a more comfortable medium for them if they get too overwhelmed when called on in meetings. Rather than forcing them into situations that cause overwhelm and panic, work within or just outside their comfort zone until they are willing to take further steps.
  • Place them in smaller groups so that they feel more comfortable sharing and speaking up.

Although all of these things may be uncomfortable at first for low scorers in dominance, they will encourage them to step out of their comfort zone a little so that they can grow into more confident & assertive leaders.

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