How people subtly assert dominance over their coworkers
We are on a constant mission to protect modern-day collaborators from the clutches of collabohaters. Our new refresh of our 9 Types of Collabohaters infographic had us once again thinking about the different wrenches that get thrown into the gears of collaborative business.
While the infographic covers the big personalities—the brazen bullies and bulldozers, the terrible trolls and tantrum-throwers—we’re focusing today on quieter ways that self-serving or power-hungry colleagues can try to gain an upper hand rather than extend a helping hand.
The meaningless meeting
You don’t have to be someone’s boss to clutter up their calendar. A meeting organizer can force participants not just to set aside a half-hour or hour for a meeting that could have condensed into an email or online discussion. If you’re working for a company in which “I’m busy” is a badge of honor, overscheduling meetings can be a way for a colleague to increase the appearance of his/her value, while disrupting your own productivity.
The power pose
Perhaps it seems silly, but numerous studies suggest that the ol’ “hands behind hand, feet up on desk” boss-pose really does send a signal of dominance. Also beware the “military commander with two hands on the desk” pose or the expectant, hands-on-hips look. Amy Cuddy gave a very popular TED talk on this topic.
Knowledge is power, so don’t be surprised when a collabohater tries to put you on a “need to know” basis. Collaboration tools are doing wonders for breaking down these old-fashioned silos, but there are still some who seek comfort in that status quo.
The upper hand
I took an A/V class in high school and one of my clearest memories was an impromptu lesson on proper handshakes by our teacher, who was the sort of teacher who supposedly (and probably apocryphally) once roamed the halls with a baseball bat even though he wasn’t a baseball coach, if you catch my drift. Handshakes assert authority, and no one is immune from judgment, not even world leaders.
The petty power play
“Thinking strategically” about lunch plans or happy hours or meeting invitations is a red flag that a person may be a collabohater. With that said, there are perfectly good reasons to pare down an invitation list; the best-run meetings are often those with the leanest attendee lists.
The Barry White
Have you ever gone into an office and felt like the person was doing breathing exercises beforehand in order to access a deeper and more commanding vocal tone? Because that is a thing that actually happens.
The sound of silence
While some collabohaters can’t ever seem to shut up, others draw their power from uncomfortable pauses. By seldom jumping in to volunteer or corroborate, to agree or disagree, they keep the pressure on the speaker.
The battle for first chair
As Carol Kinsey Goman noted in Forbes years ago, bosses have a special opportunity to put people on edge right from the beginning; there’s any number of furniture options that will emphasize the boss’s authority and the guest’s submission.
“You can choose a tall chair with armrests, a high seatback that tilts, a swivel seat, and rollers for feet. You can then put the visitor in a smaller, lower, and fixed chair on the opposite side of your desk,” she wrote. “…Arranging your office in this manner allows you to control the space between you and others, keeping them at a distance and in essence saying that you won’t come to them – they must come (and only if invited) to you.”
Even for those without a corner office, or an office at all, seating can send significant signals.
“Subtle changes in elements such as pitch, height, padding and seating configuration can dramatically change a person’s mindset during an interaction—and even the interaction itself,” says Craig LaRosa, principal and experience designer at Continuum, an innovation and design consultancy.