Strong Personalities Need Feedback Too

As I caught up with my friend today on Gchat, she voiced her frustration with a colleague who talked a lot and always had a lot of opinions. It annoyed her because she couldn't get a word in and because he always dominated the conversation.

I asked her if she felt comfortable giving him feedback on his behavior and she thought she might if she saw the behavior again (this, unfortunately, was probably inevitable).

I have a lot of experience working with strong personalities. When I say strong - I mean people who talk a lot, dominate conversations, and maybe don't have the awareness to recognize when others are annoyed, hurt, or bored.

It's really hard to give strong personalities feedback because they can be really intimidating. You feel small, misunderstood, and under-appreciated because your voice isn't heard. If you're a highly empathetic type like me, you might assume they know you're feeling this way because it seems obvious to you. You're giving them social cues by looking unhappy or disinterested.

One thing that has helped me immensely in my career is this mantra:

Never make assumptions about how people feel. Ask them.

While this is true for everyone-for me, it's especially important with people who have strong personalities. 

I was in a meeting with many people and had made a crucial decision for an important, time sensitive project. The strong personality (who also happened to be my boss) argued with me about my decision in front of everyone, said it was stupid, and then took over my meeting. 

I completely shut down. I was on the verge of tears and was seething with anger. I felt hugely disrespected. I assumed the strong personality knew they made me feel this way. Days later when they asked me why I was so quiet, I realized they didn't.

I told them I felt hurt, undermined, and embarrassed in the meeting. I told them I had a ton of respect for them and I didn't feel like they had my back. I wished they had pulled me aside to talk about the decision instead of arguing with me in front of others. They felt genuinely bad about it and it never happened again. 

I could go on and on about stories like these because during my eight years in tech, I've come across a lot of stubborn, dominant, not so empathetic people. Truthfully, it's often what makes them successful in the industry-especially in leadership.

I used to shy away from them and harbor a lot of resentment towards them. Now I love interacting with strong personalities because I see it as a unique challenge and an opportunity to help.

If you're easy to approach and easy to give feedback to, you get feedback all the time. If you're a strong personality, you're often left in the dark because people can't muster up the courage to tell you how you make them feel. It can be lonely, frustrating, and confusing.

Think of strong personalities as a psychological challenge, a monster under your bed, or a giant rollercoaster. Recognize how they make you feel but don't let that stop you from finding your socks, going on that ride, or giving constructive feedback. You'll be happier and they'll be grateful you disregarded their prickly exterior.