The Classic Showdown
This is the classic showdown between two people fighting for the top. If the challenge
succeeds it will reorder the dominance hierarchy. If it fails, it will affirm
the dominance hierarchy. Because the stakes are high, bystanders are
fascinated with dominance contests and they make for great and enduring
gossip. Winning a dominance contest leads to pride,
while losing leads to shame and
humiliation. A dominance contest seizes an
asymmetry to demonstrate superiority. Agreeing to a duel is a decision to
value pride more than life and to choose death over shame. However, men
regularly use conflict to negotiate
status and actually enjoy sparring, even
- A public test, generally of fighting ability or some other form of
to determine the relative ranking of the two contestants.
- A test or challenge to the present order of the dominance hierarchy
- Disputing your present rank in the dominance hierarchy.
Dominance contests have evolved throughout history, and even longer. They are
common among many animal species, especially when competing for a mate. The
favored format has changed over the years. Here are some examples
- Fist fights, wrestling matches, arm wrestling, or an unruly brawl.
- Duels with swords, daggers, or pistols
- “Chicken” and other games of daring and recklessness, including deadly
“road rage” and drag racing
- Poker and other games of skill or chance
- Chess Matches and other strategy games
- Endurance contests, stare downs, handshakes
- Interruptions, refusing to be interrupted, and insisting on getting the
- Talking very slowly or very softly.
- Debate, delegation, and dogma.
- Refusing to dialogue, or deflecting inquiries with
a joke, insult, change of topic, or preemptive dismissal.
- Rudeness or insults intended to humiliate
- Failure to apologize for an offense.
- Bullying, including demeaning delegation.
- Declining to share information, resources, or materials held in common.
- Declining to yield.
- Ignoring a reasonable request.
- Choosing not to return phone calls or reply to emails from certain
- Having the busier appointment calendar when trying to agree on a meeting
- Insisting on paying for dinner.
- Adultery or other trespass of romantic or sexual interests
- Upstaging the boss or other authority figure by walking in late to a meeting, challenging his
knowledge or authority in public, ignoring or disobeying his directions,
making him wait for you, publicly working at cross purposes to his, making
jokes at her expense, and other acts of insubordination, disobedience, or
While a dominance contest often provides for good theater, it is rarely a
reliable test of overall worth. Dominance contests are typically one
dimensional—the outcome of a duel depends almost entirely on who has the fastest
trigger finger. But humans are multidimensional—we think, decide, feel, act,
help, care, grow, work, play, and much more. Do we know or even care if Albert
Einstein, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Gutenberg, Confucius, Isaac Newton,
Aristotle, William Shakespeare, Mother Teresa, Euclid, Elvis Presley, or
other great people have fast trigger fingers? Would you be proud of winning a duel
against any of them? Extending the result of a dominance contest to evaluate the
overall worth of a person is a fallacy of
overgeneralization. Don't take the bait.
Entering a dominance contest is often costly, certainly for the loser, but
often even for the winner. The loser suffers a loss in image, hurt pride,
and perhaps humiliation. The winner may get a short term gain, but probably also created
resentment in the loser and reduced the number and type of people willing to
work cooperatively with him.
Rather than enter into a dominance contest, create alternatives that defuse
the issue, reshape the issue, provide time for reconsidering, or provide a more constructive point of view for
moving forward. Reject dichotomous thinking and generate more options
for a constructive resolution. Choose to focus and
comprehend rather than fight or flee. Calm down, take a deep breath, relax, and
disarm the threat. Create a positive atmosphere and take time to think. If you
feel you are the target, then move your physical location. Connect with the
challenger as a person, highlighting the intrinsic
similarities you both share. You can
always defuse the situation and postpone a decision to allow time to explore
alternatives, cool down, and resume talks another day.
The Selfish Gene,
by Richard Dawkins
Passion and Reason: Making Sense of Our Emotions,
by Richard S.
Lazarus, Bernice N. Lazarus
Our Inner Ape,
by Frans De Waal
Fear, Sadness, Anger, Joy, Surprise, Disgust, Contempt,
Anger, Envy, Jealousy, Fright, Anxiety, Guilt, Shame, Relief, Hope, Sadness, Depression, Happiness,
Pride, Love, Gratitude, Compassion, Aesthetic Experience,
Joy, Distress, Happy-for, Sorry-for, Resentment, Gloating, Pride, Shame, Admiration, Reproach,
Love, Hate, Hope, Fear, Satisfaction, Relief, Fears-confirmed, Disappointment, Gratification,
Gratitude, Anger, Remorse,
power, dominance, stature, relationships