Monday Manners: Dealing with Dominators


Several years ago, when perusing through the Harvard Coop, I found and fell in love with Emily Post’s Etiquette.  I asked for and received the 18th edition for Christmas that year and have since enjoyed skimming through it here and there and consulting it with particular etiquette questions when they arise.  A recent goal of mine has been to read Etiquette from cover to cover, and to hold myself accountable to this goal, I am going to incorporate Monday Manners posts onto this blog.  Each post will address a thought or topic that was inspired by what I read in Emily Post’s cream and turquoise beauty. 

It took the entire two-page introduction for me to know exactly what I wanted to write my first Monday Manners post about.  In her introduction, Emily (I know that my edition of Etiquette is written by Post’s descendants, but I like to pay homage to the Queen of Manners, and also to pretend that we are dear friends, on a first-name-basis) names the fundamental principles of good etiquette: respect, consideration, and honesty.  Manners are fluid, but they all rest on these three foundational qualities that enable us to interact thoughtfully with all of the people whom we encounter.  In my experience, acting with respect, consideration and honesty is much easier in some situations — and with some people — than in others. 

It seems that in many meetings, social gatherings and large group discussions, there tends to be a dominator: a person who talks more than others.  A dominator often attempts to hoist his opinions on others, is disagreeable or contrary, and has an attitude of self-superiority.  I have very little patience for dominators, and I have recently found myself reeling during meetings in which dominators are present, attempting to avoid people whom I know to be dominators, and stewing for hours (sometimes days) after which I have been steamrolled by a dominator.

I have a really, really, really hard time treating dominators with respect, consideration, and honesty.  I find myself tuning out when a dominator talks during a meeting (disrespectful) and running away from dominators at parties or other large group gatherings (inconsiderate), only to wave goodbye to them at the end of the night with a smile and a “great to see you!” (insincere, phony, and dishonest). 

I don’t like spending time with dominators, but I even less like feeling the guilt and self-reproach that I experience when I have succumbed to disrespect, inconsideration, and dishonesty.  In other words, this post on dealing with dominators is selfishly driven: it’s not out of care for dominators or an expansive personal generosity of spirit.  I simply don’t like witnessing the bad side that dominators bring out in me.  And the stubborn part of me says, “Dominators, you cannot win.  I will not let you bring out the worst in me!”  For these reasons alone I feel compelled to remember Emily’s advice next time I am faced with a dominator.  Even if ignoring the dominator will feel better in the moment than engaging with him or her, I will feel better in the long run if I have treated the dominator with respect, consideration and honesty.

A desire to have good etiquette alone isn’t going to enable me to meet dominators with the grace and charm of my dear friend Emily.  Fortunately, I have resources beyond Etiquette.  One of my core beliefs is that all people — no matter their personality, creed, race, background, opinions or form of expression — are inherently valuable and worthy of love and respect.  This includes dominators.  With this perspective, sometimes forgotten but ultimately held deep within me, I know that I have it in me to put Emily’s fundamental principles into action.