Sales is a relatively high stress profession, with a fair amount (read: lots) of positive and negative swings.
And with the industry being as competitive as it is, you’re bound to run into conflict. Dealing with difficult managers, coworkers, and even clients can add a lot of extra stress to your day-to-day work. Knowing how to deal with conflict in the workplace is a necessary skill every sales professional should master.
We asked the sales community to weigh in on their best conflict resolution tips. Here’s a look at what they had to say:
What We Asked the Sales Hacker Community
This post reflects the responses of 9 Sales Hacker community members. Consider this more of a roundup of sales pros’ perspectives instead of deep research into conflict resolution.
- Have you had to deal with a difficult coworker or manager? This question was a prerequisite for being included in this post.
- How did you handle the situation? Everyone handles conflict differently. We left this question open-ended to encourage a variety of answers.
- How would you do things differently, given the chance? No matter how emotionally intelligent you are, there’s always room to grow. Check out these tips for what NOT to do.
- When is it appropriate to approach the person with conflict versus going to someone else to talk about it? Approaching disagreements with respect for your coworkers is crucial for successful conflict resolution. We asked our community members how they broach touchy subjects.
- What’s one tip you would give to someone dealing with conflict with a coworker or manager? Only have five minutes to read this article? This is the section you’ll want to skip to for quick insights.
- How do you think sales leaders can help avoid and resolve conflict within their teams? Curious what your employees really think of your management style? Sales leaders at every stage of their careers need to read these responses.
- What are your favorite resources for learning to work well with others? If you’re looking to learn more about conflict resolution, these book and podcast recommendations are the place to start.
Where Does Conflict Commonly Arise in Sales Orgs?
Sales is a high-stress job with a lot of front-facing communication. Over the course of your sales career, you’re bound to work with managers, coworkers, and even clients you don’t see eye-to-eye with. Understanding where conflict arises in sales teams is the first step to combating issues.
Here’s a quick look at the three most common stressors salespeople face on a daily basis:
Sales professionals are expected to regularly achieve and surpass revenue targets with more pressure being placed on them as they prove themselves to be high performers. If your sales compensation doesn’t match what these top sellers believe their skills are worth, that’s going to cause issues within your organization.
And with many of these top performers, they’re less likely to argue for a raise if they feel they’re being cheated. They’ll probably just find another job somewhere else.
The number one reason salespeople leave their jobs is compensation. Voluntary turnover for salespeople is a whopping 16%. That might not sound like a lot but it’s actually the highest percent across any industry. If you’re looking to train and retain top sales talent, this is one area you don’t want to fall behind in.
Curious if sales compensation stacks up? Ask yourself these questions:
- Are the right people being credited and compensated for closing a deal?
- Does your organization’s pay structure align with the industry standard?
- Are your sales forecasting and quota expectations realistic?
- Does your organization fairly compensate reps who go above and beyond?
- Are roles in your sales organization clearly defined or are they all over the place?
- Does your organization reward things like innovation and soft skills?
Remote work stress
The shift to remote work isn’t just impacting the way we sell, it’s changing the way customers buy. With budgets tightening and more companies looking to invest in long-term remote solutions, old sales strategies aren’t going to work. This shift to remote selling has forced many organizations to rethink their sales strategy.
Those changes also impact how individual reps conduct their business. On top of all the usual stress of trying to close a deal, reps are now dealing with additional issues like:
- Technology malfunctions and WiFi issues
- Fewer face-to-face communications with leads
- Feelings of isolation or disconnectedness from their team
- Added stress of sharing a working environment with children, spouses, or roommates
Not only that, but sales professionals run the risk of burning themselves out. The lines between working hours and your home life can easily blur when generating revenue is top of mind. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for salespeople to disconnect from their work and maintain a healthy work/life balance.
Sales and marketing misalignment
Getting your sales and marketing team on the same page is easier said than done. One common issue that arises between these teams is goal misalignment. Sales blames marketing for not generating high-quality leads, marketing insists sales isn’t taking the time to nurture leads correctly. This blame game causes frustration for more than just sales employees and creates tension between departments.
This tension is only exacerbated by the rise in remote work. Teams that were working in silos before are likely facing worse conditions than before. Organizations that don’t invest in proactive internal communication strategies and cross-departmental goal-setting are likely to face an uphill battle as remote work continues to rise in popularity.
Here are some common signs your sales and marketing teams aren’t on the same page:
- Your sales reps repeatedly complain about the quality of MQLs generated by your marketing team
- Your marketing collateral, customer success stories, and educational resources are ignored by your sales team
- Both teams work too independently of each other and don’t share or collaborate on strategy
Who to approach about issues and disagreements
Most sales professionals think that the best approach is to talk directly to the person you’re having an issue with first. This approach may be awkward, but the Sales Hacker community agrees it’s the best way to ensure you’re leading with empathy. Approaching the person you’re having an issue with directly helps open a dialog about how to find a solution to the issue.
Hierarchy is one of the trickiest things to navigate when it comes to disagreements in the workplace. Knowing when it’s appropriate to escalate an issue to your direct supervisor or HR can be a tough call to make. But there is a right way to involve your boss without letting the situation escalate even more.
“Prior to becoming a Director, I would go to my manager, in part to respect the ‘chain of command’ but also to ensure I would see both sides of what was causing the conflict,” says Jake Bernstein, Director of Sales at ClearCut Analytics. “That empathy can typically create a solid level of understanding.”
How to facilitate productive conversations
Managing conflict in the workplace is everyone’s job. Even sales leaders with decades of experience can learn more about communicating in times of conflict. Among our respondents were two senior sales leaders who shared their insights into how they facilitate tough conversations among their employees.
Shruti Kapoor, CEO of Wingman, has an easy three-step approach for resolving conflict:
- Be open to feedback – don’t go on the defensive
- Focus the conversation on the facts and data
- Move away from a ‘you versus me’ situation
Taking an objective approach to the conflict involved can help eliminate a lot of extraneous factors from the problem. As a sales leader, it’s important to get all of the facts about a situation before working toward a resolution.
Harveen Gandhi, Director of Sales Enablement at Aranca, agrees that if you can shift the focus away from hurt feelings and focus instead on finding solutions, you can often find a solution that works for everyone.
“There are a lot of factors that go into solving a conflict. For example, hearing both sides of the story, ensuring motivation is intact, their efforts and of course, always take into consideration the rules and fairness behind the decision.”
Best Tips for Conflict Resolution
A lot of things can factor into workplace conflict. Miscommunication, conflicting personalities, and even difference in working styles. When managed correctly, disagreements in the workplace can actually help inspire news ways of thinking and build stronger relationships.
Whether you’re just starting your sales career or managing a team of hundreds of sales professionals, conflict management is everyone’s responsibility. How you handle a conflict will decide whether a situation ends in a positive or negative experience.
Here are five of the best tips for handling conflict from the Sales Hacker community:
Don’t respond in anger; take time to reflect
There will be times when emotions are running too high to find a resolution right away. Knowing when to pull a coworker aside can be just as important as what you say to them. If you get the sense that you or the other person involved isn’t ready to have a productive conversation, taking some time to cool off can do the trick.
Paul Burchard, Vice President of Enterprise Sales at Chowly, Inc. recommends taking the time to write your responses and thoughts in writing.
“I did not respond immediately. I wrote out my response and clearly identified what items I had an issue with. I read it back to myself, made sure my response was properly measured and professional. Finally, I called and spoke with the person.”
Serena Chow, Sales Operations at Cisco Meraki, agrees that it’s important to allow both yourself and the other person involved space to reflect.
“If the situation felt like both parties were not in the right headspace emotionally to have a conversation, I always make myself clear to the person I would like time to gather my thoughts without it being driven by the instant’s emotions and circle back after 24 hours.”
Get an outside perspective for clarity
Sometimes a situation is so frustrating that you just need to vent. But before you pull up Slack to message your work best friend, take a pause. Talking about the issue you’re having with one coworker with other employees can make a tense situation even messier. Instead, it can be a good idea to get perspective from someone outside of the situation.
Sarah Williams, a Technical Sales and Product Trainer at MediaRadar, stresses the importance of having (and leaning on) an outside support system for advice and clarity.
“I think it’s good to vent to someone outside of your company, a friend or relative (who is happy to listen to you rant over wine), because having to explain it to someone outside the situation helps you put it into perspective, calm down a little, process your feelings without additional emotions, and then you can re-enter the conversation ready to discuss the facts and find a resolution.”
Keep conversations solutions-oriented
Our emotions can have a huge impact on how we handle conflict. And while it’s good to feel your feelings, it’s important to know when to set them aside. Centering conflict resolution around the facts and finding a solution can help de-escalate even the biggest disagreements.
Here are some tips for keeping your conversations solutions-focused:
- Use “I” statements when talking about how the situation made you feel (e.g. “I felt blindsided when this happened” as opposed to “You blindsided me.”) This prevents conversations from feeling accusatory or becoming hostile.
- Identify points where you and the other person agree – this can help you find common ground and work towards a solution that works for both parties
- Understand that emotions are inevitable in conflict. Don’t discredit how the other person is feeling; instead, acknowledge their feelings and then focus on redirecting the conversation back to finding a solution.
Moeed Amin, the Director and Founder of Proverbial Door, put it perfectly in his response:
“Be hard on the facts and soft on the person. Know the facts and especially what facts are missing. Do not be hard on the person, that won’t get you anywhere. Be mindful of the emotional and irrational elements that are causing the conflict and seek to understand their perspective as well as share with them the facts.”
Understand that conflict isn’t always a bad thing
Conflict may be uncomfortable but it can have its benefits. When two people are able to talk through a situation and understand each other’s perspective, it can often lead to better solutions, working relationships, and new ideas.
The key to productive conflict is being open to what the other person has to say and looking for common ground. Olaf Knijn, a Sales Enablement Specialist in SaaS, recommends acknowledging the uncomfortableness of conflict head-on.
“Accepting the fact that conflicts, although energy taking, actually have a role is the first step that takes the edge off. Once there is a conflict, be open and address it. Then, start looking for common ground. Be prepared to agree to disagree.”
Once you can get past the emotions involved, it’s easier to work toward a solution.
Improve your own emotional intelligence
Nobody is born a perfect mediator. Emotional intelligence and conflict resolution are soft skills you’ll need to hone. Take the initiative to educate yourself on better management techniques, conflict resolution strategies, and communication styles.
Here are four books on conflict resolution recommended by our survey participants:
- Radical Candor by Kim Scott
- Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
- The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman
- Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
Outside resources are just one piece of the puzzle. As Michael Rudzki, Enterprise Sales Manager at Egencia, points out: the best way to manage conflict within your team is to get to know your team better.
“Take the time to understand how each individual on your team likes to be managed, i.e autonomous vs. more hands-on. Take the time to build a relationship with each individual. The more that you know each individual on your team, the better that you’ll be able to help resolve or avoid conflict within a team.
If as a leader you encourage a cohesive and collaborative team by allocating time for team meetings/events, doing so will also help encourage team members to avoid and resolve conflict with one another.”
Learning what makes each person on your team tick can help you better understand how to handle conflict with people on an individual level.
Have you successfully navigated a tense situation at work? Are you looking to have that difficult conversation soon? Drop your tips and questions to the community discussion below!