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Difference between dominance and aggression

Hello Lucio,

I think this would be useful both for PU students (lesson on aggression) and forum members alike. The definitions from the dictionary:

Aggression: in social and power dynamics, words, tonality and body language that communicate anger or exasperation.
Aggression can be physical aggression. But even when it’s still only at a verbal level, it often sub-communicates the willingness, readiness, or the state of mind for a possible physical attack.
In the submission-assertion-aggression continuum, aggression often refers to overreaction and to a failure of proper assertive communication.

Dominance: the more showy and obvious displays and signs of power. While power is about what you want in a myriad of way, dominance is usually about getting what you want by bending others to your will, or imposing your will.

Power: power is the measure of an individual’s to influence or dictate decitions, influence or dictate other people’s behavior and, ultimately, to achieve goals and get what he wants.

I still have some difficulties to differentiate between the twos. Not by much. But I don't have the same clarity as for other concepts.

What would be very useful for me as a learner would be:

  1. To have a written example in the dictionary (and in PU a video in the aggression lesson) of dominance and aggression
  2. A graphic or an example or a sentence to explain the hierarchical link between Power -> Dominance -> Aggression. For instance: you can get power through dominance (ok but through what other means as well? Manipulation? Influence?) and a form of dominance is aggression (ok but what are the other forms?)

To better understand, it would help me to see a hierarchical drawing that connects the terms as in 2. That could also be the basis of a hierarchical classification of terms around power.

1 and 2 could be in the "Aggression vs Dominance" chapter of this PU lesson.

What do you think about this?


Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Hey John,

Yes, that makes a lot of sense and I think it would also be very helpful.


The lack of clarity indeed is because those terms overlap.
You can have an aggressive behavior that is dominant, and that helps you reach certain goals and/or acquire status and power. Then that behavior fits them all.


The challenge in defining those terms at a general level is what probably matters the most is what behaviors are effective to reach certain goals and what behaviors are ineffective.
And what's effectively powerful / dominant / aggressive is context-dependent.

For example, when we talk about "matching her level of aggression" instead of labeling it, the aggressive response is effective because it matches the level and fits the context.


A partial solution could be to link the high-level definition to the aggression scale.
So for example being at a level 7 of aggression towards someone who was not aggressive, is more likely to be defined as ineffectively aggressive (but even then, not always).


However, I realize that the difficulty in defining them shouldn't be a reason not to try, but should be a bigger reason to do it.

After all, that's exactly one of the things that differentiate this website: making general and fuzzy concepts clear and practical.

I made a note on this.

If in the meanwhile anyone has any idea on how to differentiate and clarify the difference among the three, I'm all ears.

Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?