Denman Masthead

How to communicate with an Alpha

Sarah Macarthur-King

We’ve all experienced alphas, whether they be male or female.

That person that instantly dominates the conference room and fills the space with utter certainty and power. A genuine leader who you could almost envisage on the back of a horse leading armies in the 1800s. It took me far too long to get the best out of my dealings with alphas. I would find myself in nose-to-nose arguments where I invariably got angry and emotional; it wasn’t pretty. Clearly not a great outcome and had I known back then what I know now, those encounters would never have been so unpleasant.

Alphas are great people to have on your team because they are your commanders, visionaries, strategists and executors. Dr Kate Ludeman, from the Work Ethic Corporation, describes that sometimes their exceptional strengths can be used inappropriately; their confidence becomes arrogance, toughness becomes belligerence and competitiveness becomes a fight to the death.

Knowing you are working with an alpha is easy. They are dominant, confident and love to take charge; they are aggressive and competitive; they are incredibly task focused; they are bold and innovative and they are persistent and steadfast. Knowing exactly how to engage with them is vital to get the best out of them and to avoid becoming collateral damage.

To do that, it is important to know that seven percent of your communication is verbal, thirty eight percent is tonal and fifty five percent is via body language. What we say is often not the message we convey.

Below are my 10 top tips for communicating with alphas:

  1. Change your mindset. Accept that you can’t ‘fix’ them. You are the one that must adapt.
  2. Never try to ‘out-alpha’ them. There will only be one loser; you.
  3. Retain your femininity, but never be girly. Don’t play with your hair, accessories or touch your neck.
  4. Never apologise to them. Instead of ‘I haven’t read all those reports yet’, say ‘What I have reviewed so far is…’.
  5. Never tell them directly that they are wrong. Instead, use language like ‘Have you considered…?’.
  6. Alphas (especially males) don’t need your praise to feel good about themselves. They are task focused, so if they achieve a great result, congratulate the success of the task, not their personal success.
  7. Alphas are outcome focused, not relationship focused. Don’t take it personally if you don’t strike a deep rapport with them.
  8. Use confident body language; arms open, eye contact, feet shoulder width apart, be still and calm and move slowly.
  9. Don’t waffle. Give them the bottom line up front with pertinent facts to support.
  10. Never say ‘I think’. Use direct, confident language like ‘we should’, or ‘in my opinion…’.

If the sh*t hits the fan, do not become the timid mouse or get emotional. Stand your ground. Breathe deeply. Move to a position to equal your heights (step backwards or stand up out of your chair). Open your legs to shoulder width distance, put your hands on your hips, chest out and drop your chin slightly. This body language exudes confidence and shows them you are not afraid of them. Maintain eye contact. If you gesture, keep your arm movements in front of you and not outside your body.

Never let your tone go up at the end of a sentence. Instead, go down using a command tonality. Drop the pitch of your voice down a few notches if you have a higher pitched voice.

Speak slowly, clearly and confidently. Make your point clear and express how their behaviour is not acceptable if required. Finish with a neutral statement such as ‘I acknowledge your point of view. I’ll get back to you with a decision by xxx’.

Conversations with an alpha don’t have to be hard. By employing these tips, you will increase the likelihood of them continuing to respect you in the future and may even win you a powerful ally.

Image of ‘front view of…‘ via Shutterstock


Sarah Macarthur-King

Sarah Macarthur-King is an Executive Coach and Founding Director of Invictus Coaching Solutions. 20 years of working in male dominated organisations, such as the British Army, Australian Defence Force and Work Health and Safety focused industries have provide her with the experience and knowledge to assist corporate women or female business leaders maximise their leadership presence. More about the Author

Denman Leaderboard