Is Dominance a Difference that Makes a Difference?

December 13, 2008

I’m curious these days about dominance, its role in human systems, and its function in complex adaptation.

In an intervention today, I was working with a male supervisor of an all-female team. As I watched them interact in a formal, conflict resolution conversation, I became painfully aware of his unconscious—and incredibly powerful—dominant behaviors. I watched the women react and heard them give feedback about everything except those specific signals of power and control.

I then realized that I may do the same. Sometimes I unintentionally send signals to claim or maintain my position. Sometimes I react unconsciously to the signals sent by others. Of course there are other times where I consciously and/or intentionally choose a dominant or subservient stance, but I only worry about those when I don’t do it well.

The situation that really challenges me is the one in which I participate in patterns of which I am not aware. Perhaps that is what it means to be part of a dominant culture, but what function does such an asymmetry serve in the complex adaptation, self-organizing, emergent process of social structuration? Is it necessary, or is it an historical artifact that we can and should abolish for the survival of the human race?

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