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How to Deal with a Steamroller Personality

We have all encountered business associates who behave aggressively. A client who angrily demands a discount, a team member who puts down another's ideas to promote his own, or an employee who lashes out when she is asked to take accountability for her actions are examples of steamrolling behavior.

For some, steamrolling is a momentary lapse in judgment, perhaps an unusual act of desperation or a manifestation of an unrelated issue. But for others, this dangerous behavior is part of their personalities – a usual and even valued way of interacting with others and managing life.

Steamrollers can be ruthless. They are pushy people who go to great lengths to get what they want or prove that they are right. While others find conflict and fighting unpleasant, these non-empathetic people love it. Since winning is the only option for these immature, entitled types, they will intimidate, belittle, insult, harass, and even physically harm their opponents to win. They are truly hurtful people who will not hesitate to annihilate your self-esteem.

How can you deal with these bullies?

  1. Understand that steamrollers are fighting – in some sense – for their lives.

If you peel back the layers of a steamroller, chances are you will find a shattered sense of self dominated by fear, shame, rage, powerlessness, and even loneliness. Sense of self or self-concept refers to the images and beliefs that people have about themselves. It encompasses their personalities, life experiences, relationships, and socialization. Like the body – its brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidney, limbs and other parts and organs – sense of self is an important part of being human and alive. People with fragile senses of self often feel diminished, wounded, unsafe, out of control, and defeated, so they must fight to protect themselves when under attack (e.g., during a disagreement). Getting their way and always being right keeps the steamroller intact, provides a sense of safety and control, and helps keep them on top – like winners. In their minds, they must continuously prove to themselves and everyone else that they are winners.

Conceivably, a steamroller's sense of self is always under attack because they cannot control every interaction, situation, or relationship. For example, colleagues, vendors, service providers, and other business stakeholders have their own competencies, ideas, and viewpoints; needs and goals; and values and beliefs. So they will not always agree with steamrollers or put steamrollers' needs above their own. Furthermore, like everyone, steamrollers make mistakes that need be called to their attention. They may also make unreasonable demands – after all they are the center of the universe – that others cannot or will not accommodate.

Understanding why a steamroller is so driven to get want they want can help you depersonalize the behavior. This allows you to remain calm and keep your self-esteem intact – even in the face of the steamroller's hurtful behavior.

  1. Calmly disagree with the steamroller.

Steamrollers are dominators who count on the fact that they can get away with being aggressive. They get their power from the fact that most people do not want to fight with them or anyone else for that matter. When you assert your power by disagreeing with the steamroller – without arguing – you are letting him/her know that you will not be intimidated.

You can take the following steps to disarm a steamroller.

a.  Remain calm.

b.  If your arms are folded, unfold them.

c.  Look the person in the eye.

d.  Say the person's name.

e.  Tell him/her that you disagree without screaming, yelling, or getting defensive.

Here is an example: "Mr. Jones, with all due respect, in my opinion…"

Also, avoid using confrontational words, making provocative statements, or getting personal. This will only add salt to the steamroller's wound, which will add to his/her explosiveness.

Statements like the following should not be made:

"You're absolutely wrong."

"What you think does not matter."

"You don't know what you're talking about."

"You'd better watch how you talk to me."

"You don’t have the power to make that decision."

  1. Listen to the steamroller.

Ask the steamroller to share his/her feelings. This will send the message that you want to listen to and understand the steamroller's point of view rather than argue about whose right or wrong. You might say something like: "I don't agree with you, but I'd like to know why you think we should handle the issue this way."

  1. Take your opportunity to talk.

Once the steamroller has explained his/her viewpoint, then express yours. You must do this because, if you do not, the steamroller will turn up the pressure again. When you assert your right to share your point-of-view, you let the steamroller know that you are not intimidated and that you matter too.

Begin your discussion by acknowledging one of the steamroller's points as in the following example:

"Robert, I understand why you have doubts because it is a bit of a risk. But research shows that this method leads to positive outcomes 98 percent of the time, so I believe it is a risk worth taking."

Above all, do not allow the steamroller to interrupt you. Chances are they will try because they do not like to be challenged. Remember they must win! You might say something like:

"Nina, you interrupted me. I am giving you the details of the situation, please listen to me."

Again, avoid making provocative statements like the following:

"Stop interrupting me."

"You had your turn to talk now it's mine."

"Do you ever stop talking?"

"I am not finished talking."

"Be quiet."

These kinds of statements will provoke the steamroller to fight because he/she is already feeling threatened, aggressive, and perhaps wronged.  

Every time the steamroller interrupts you, calmly say "Name, you interrupted me" and continue with your discussion. This tactic lets the steamroller know that you are not going to give into his/her demands or argue.


It would be nice if we did not have to deal with steamrollers but they are everywhere. And, unfortunately, the nature of business provokes this behavior in some people. Taking these steps can help you effectively manage your interactions and relationships with steamrolling clients, supervisors, employees, and other business stakeholders. They can also help you feel better about yourself and strengthen your confidence.


Gabor, D. 1994. Speaking Your Mind in 101 Difficult Situations. New York: Simon & Schuster.