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How to handle dominant personalities talking over you in team discussions?

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Anonymous User at Taro Communitya year ago

I'm an E5 at a Big Tech company. There are several loud, opinionated, dominant personalities on my team. Some of them are E6. They often talk over each other as well as the rest of the team, so the rest of the team rarely contribute to discussions anymore. When a teammate (E5) presented his RFC to our team today, the dominant personalities started questioning his design decisions and talked over him when he tried to defend them. My teammate looked so discouraged and beaten down at the end of that meeting. When I brought this up to my EM in a 1:1, he said it's a people problem -- people are not being respectful. I asked my EM if he could coach those people, but he said he prefers to invest in people like me who are interested in learning & growing.

  • Is this a lost cause?
  • Are there techniques to handle these dominant personalities skillfully? Or do my teammates & I just need to develop "thick skin"?
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(2 comments)
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    Software Engineer
    a year ago

    Hello, thank you for your question.

    I would recommend Alex's Guide To Effective Communication https://www.jointaro.com/playlist/hVdLQQzfslaYarLSCmmy/

    This reminds me of a book Surrounded by Idiots. The book talks about 4 different types of behaviors presented as colors. Some of us are only one type, some of us mix few of them. It's worth reading it if you haven't already. These personalities sound like reds/yellow. How can you deal with them? Talking louder won't help, you can't change people as well (it will take a while at least :)). What Erikson (the author of the book) suggests is - leave them talk as much as they want. Then, just share your opinion with as few words as possible. This shouldn't discourage you or the others.

    How to share opinion - "Don't view the situation as you vs them", "Try to weave their approach with yours". Alex gave great ideas here - https://www.jointaro.com/lesson/EBkBhlTSwKp96MiHND2C/effective-communication-guide-part-4-resolving-disagreements/

    Dealing with reds - earn their trust and respect. Strong opinion is not the way. Actually, if you have more reds in the room it can lead to a conflict pretty easily. What can help is building a relationship - https://www.jointaro.com/lesson/tyaPFMXPoz2pmzB7OVzt/how-to-build-deep-relationships-quickly-in-tech-12172022/ If you prove yourself against red you will earn their respect. But again, don't prove with having stronger opinion but with a hard work for example, giving great ideas, be friend with them, etc.

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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a year ago

    Is this a lost cause?

    If you and others have given them feedback, and your manager isn't willing to do anything about it - Maybe 😔

    Are there techniques to handle these dominant personalities skillfully?

    Similar to "fight or flight", there's 2 broad categories:

    1. You confront the problem directly - This requires giving them honest feedback and telling them directly that this is a problem which is genuinely hurting your team mentally and emotionally. I believe that very few people are truly evil - Some just have the empathy buried deeper down than others. If you're going to do this though, you have to meticulously build your case.
    2. You work around them - Talk to your manager and see if you can get technical decisions through without getting the sign-off of these dominant personalities. A staff engineer's time is very valuable - They don't need to chime in on absolutely everything. You can pitch this as an efficiency gain.

    Something else I recommend trying though is seeing if you can get alignment on decisions async on the system design doc before the meeting. It seems like a lot of the pain stems from everything exploding during the meeting. I left my detailed thoughts on how to do that in this discussion from a Google engineer.