Monday, July 09, 2012

How is Dominance Resisted?

Athol Kay writes:

Most interpersonal conflict arises from attempts to maintain threatened dominance and/or evade being in a submissive position. When I started “breaking free” at work, I got into “trouble” several times with my superiors. Once it became apparent I wasn’t going to be contained, and in fact was becoming someone that could bump back on them rather firmly, they backed off and were much nicer.

I was thinking about that while watching this scene from Margin Call, a movie with a fair number of high-dominance males.  For those of you who haven’t seen it (and it’s a great movie, btw), it concerns the 2008 decision by “the firm” (i.e., Goldman Sachs) to dump it’s worthless MBS portfolio on unsuspecting investors.  The head of trading Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) has objected to this, and Sam’s boss Jared Cohen (Simon Baker) is shown here telling Sam’s subordinate Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) that he may have to take over if Sam doesn’t “step up”.  Watch as Will pushes back:

Basically, Will is two levels down from Jared in the firm’s hierarchy, yet he effectively resists Jared’s dominance.

Personally, I don’t really have a problem taking the submissive role with duly-constituted, formal authority.  I do, however, resist dominance by titular peers.

The problem is . . . I never manage that resistance in socially constructive (for me) ways.  I never arrive at the place where my unwillingness to be dominated gets me better treatment.  What usually happens is that I wind up being a social pariah.


Anonymous said...

in business and the military you often get into problems because the person with nominal authority does not also have a matching level of personal dominance. In teh workplace most men will defer to the nominal authority until that authority demonstrates weakness. Then natural dominance will butt heads. The authority figure doesn't know how to deal with that so they use their authority to jack around the junior dominant personality. This creates a level of hostility int eh organization that harms productivity. It also seems to be a universal problem in those organizations that depend on a hierarchy to function and do not promote the dominant personalities to fill that hierarcy (The military promotes based on longevity and ticket punching that mostly ignores personal dominance)

Justin said...

My thoughts echo Prof's, above. I've noticed it often in the corporate world. They promote weak young women or weak personality men, who have no natural skill at dealing with conflict, and thus, they flee to "bureaucratic/legalistic" penalties.

Actually, this is not a bug, this is a feature. In the corporate world, they want submissives and conformists, especially as 1st and 2nd line managers.

Dr. Phi, I suspect the reason you "end up being a social pariah" is because you are in a female-dominated institution (education). That is how females deal with conflict.

Dr. Φ said...

I'm not in education any more, but even then, university engineering departments are not normally described as female dominant.

I can kind of see how the perceived weakness of the nominal authority might have played into it.