Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Why Are We Reluctant? Conflict


You are probably interested in a lot of things. You probably have knowledge about your product, especially if you moved over to sales from another role within the same industry. 

The best salespeople I know are jacks-of-all-trades, dilettantes, students of the world, and they enjoy using that wide collection of interests to connect with people.

Those of us raised in the last 25-50 years probably came away from childhood with the ethic that we should want to help people, too. Reach out, include others, be helpful.  

So now you have all the components to be a terrific seller.

With all these skills and knowledge and desire to help, something still holds you back.  Why do you not pick up the phone and offer some curiosity and knowledge toward another who would want to compensate you for the effort? There are a myriad of reasons and we all struggle with them in different proportions.

We don't like conflict.

As buyers, we have likely had poor experiences with overly-aggressive salespeople so we don’t want to be seen as someone who is aggressive to a fault and make people we talk with wish they’d missed the elevator.  

We don’t want to be in situations where people are putting up their defenses when they see a salesperson approaching. Who would volunteer to walk into a defensive crowd? That is a terrible idea.

It is rational to never

You are probably interested in a lot of things. You probably have knowledge about your product, especially if you moved over to sales from another role within the same industry. The best salespeople I know are jacks-of-all-trades, dilettantes, students of the world, and they enjoy using that wide collection of interests to connect with people.

Those of us raised in the last 25-50 years probably came away from childhood with the ethic that we should want to help people, too. Reach out, include others, be helpful.  

You have all the components to be a terrific seller.

With all these skills and knowledge and desire to help, something still holds you back.  Why do you not pick up the phone and offer some curiosity and knowledge toward another who would want to compensate you for the effort? There are a myriad of reasons and we all struggle with them in different proportions.

As buyers, we have likely had poor experiences with overly-aggressive salespeople so we don’t want to be seen as someone who is aggressive to a fault and make people we talk with wish they’d missed the elevator.  

We don’t want to be in situations where people are putting up their defenses when they see a salesperson approaching. Who would volunteer to walk into a defensive crowd? That is a terrible idea.

It is rational to never voluntarily engage in these behaviors and the stereotypical selling seems to embody all of them. Except that when you sell well, there is rarely any conflict at all. The Challenger Model of selling is distinctive in that it encourages the seller to challenge a client’s business assumptions, but that still is done as an investment in the relationship and doesn’t work well when done in an adversarial tone.

It feels good in the moment to avoid conflict. But avoiding conflict now ignores the future. If all interaction that could potentially result in an argument were avoided, you’d spend a lot of time in a room alone.

Rejection: We fear rejection, and that is baked into our DNA as a social species. And we tolerate quite a lot of rejection just in normal life. Avoiding the possibility of being rejected when income is on the line is self-limiting.

Accusations: We fear someone accusing us of being self-serving or motivated by money. But if you only give out information, helpfulness and genuine interest, there is little room for accusations.

Self-Confidence: We may think our opinion or offer is not good enough, we expect to get rejected so we do the rejection pro-actively. The irony is that you’re much more likely to attract a prospect if you have some conviction and assert yourself, than if you go in expecting to get rejected.

Compromising, avoiding, withdrawing, accommodating, forcing the issue, and getting more authoritarian are ways of ensuring everyone loses[1]. Few things are less productive than negotiating with yourself instead of the client.

There are different kinds of conflicts and it’s appropriate to sort out which one you’re facing. It’s hard to analyze if you’ve avoided the whole interaction.

Logical conflicts are those rooted in facts like costs or the specific features of a product you might be selling. I’d put slow or poor or uninformed service in this category too.

Emotional conflicts are things like “I don’t like you”. And truly, most emotional conflicts are very likely to have come out of distorting the logical conflicts.

We had a client who represented a government office. He used to come into the station regularly for news interviews as an expert in his field, and advertised when it was appropriate. Our station manager suggested to the News Director that we were hearing a lot out of that one guy lately, and asked him to interview some others. Just widen the net and spread the opportunity to be on the radio around to additional experts. As a publicly-licensed entity, radio stations employ this wider-net policy for the good of the community so they can hear multiple perspectives. We saw it as a logical conflict between the client and the policy.

But the client took this as a direct insult, and never came back for another interview. He saw it as an emotional conflict. His pride was injured and he wouldn’t hear reason. He actively derailed efforts by our salespeople to sell into the organization around him.

Given his sway in the organization, it seems we cannot resolve this until he retires. I have a decision to make: I can spend more time going to his boss and working around him, or I can look for other, less combative prospects. In this case, avoidance is a better use of my time.

Logical conflicts are fairly easy to understand: we understand someone if needs their widgets delivered on a date that you can’t hit. Or we all have budgets and understand when a client just can’t get past the price. Sometimes the timing isn’t right and you turn a “no” into a “not right now.” These are clearly out of your control and logical conflicts don’t keep you up at night.

Emotional conflicts feel worse because the reasons someone has in an emotional conflict often don’t make sense to us. Or worse, sometimes you don’t even get the benefit of an explanation and are left wondering what happened.  

A prospect who feels wronged might flair and think they’re justified in treating a sales rep with anger and contempt. You can end up feeling very threatened and out of control. Who wants to set themselves up for that? It’s hard to be an empathetic person, want to help others, and knowingly walk into a confrontational situation.

We’ve had business owners refuse to meet our salespeople, which were almost always emotional conflicts rather than logical conflicts. One business owner has owned an RV store for over 20 years, and the rational response for him should be to advertise with a consistent schedule, attend our events, and make the most of our large audience. He has thrown out numerous reps over the years until one finally stood his ground and asked “why are you so angry with us?

Clearly angry and jabbing like he meant to hurt the rep, the prospect said “you let the RV dealer from the next market over advertise in our town!” This was factually true. It had to be hard for the rep to not say the equivalent of “if you’d advertised with us, we wouldn’t have gone looking for someone in your category,” but he’s a not as petty as I can be.

That rep knew the out-of-town-dealer recently changed hands, and took their advertising with them in the process. They wouldn’t be advertising with us in the future. Prudently, the rep didn’t give up all his information without getting something in exchange. He intended to fish this emotional conflict out of the murky depths and land it on logical ground. He asked “if they didn’t advertise any more, would you be willing to talk with me about promoting your business?

The possibility of a big competitor exiting the market was compelling enough that the business owner was willing to listen. This rep brought the hostile prospect information that was relevant and valuable. He wouldn’t have known to offer that if he hadn’t engaged a hostile prospect, and he couldn’t have provided that info to diffuse the situation if he had avoided the conflict.

When you can maintain your rational bearing, you could actually help someone who is feeling very emotional about their issue. Let them talk. If you hear them out, they might give you some objective information you can address.



[1] Natalie Bel Hill, “Why Do We Avoid Confrontation?“ Elite Daily, April 2015. https://www.elitedaily.com/life/culture/avoid-confrontation/1007777

engage in these behaviors and the stereotypical selling seems to embody all of them. Except that when you sell well, there is rarely any conflict at all. The Challenger Model of selling is distinctive in that it encourages the seller to challenge a client’s business assumptions, but that still is done as an investment in the relationship and doesn’t work well when done in an adversarial tone.

It feels good in the moment to avoid conflict. But avoiding conflict now ignores the future. If all interaction that could potentially result in an argument were avoided, you’d spend a lot of time in a room alone.

Rejection: We fear rejection, and that is baked into our DNA as a social species. And we tolerate quite a lot of rejection just in normal life. Avoiding the possibility of being rejected when income is on the line is self-limiting.

Accusations: We fear someone accusing us of being self-serving or motivated by money. But if you only give out information, helpfulness and genuine interest, there is little room for accusations.

Self-Confidence: We may think our opinion or offer is not good enough, we expect to get rejected so we do the rejection pro-actively. The irony is that you’re much more likely to attract a prospect if you have some conviction and assert yourself, than if you go in expecting to get rejected.

Compromising, avoiding, withdrawing, accommodating, forcing and directing are ways of ensuring everyone loses[1]. Few things are less productive than negotiating with yourself instead of the client.

There are different kinds of conflicts and it’s appropriate to sort out which one you’re facing. It’s hard to analyze if you’ve avoided the whole interaction.

Logical conflicts are those rooted in facts like costs or the specific features of a product you might be selling. I’d put slow or poor or uninformed service in this category too.

Emotional conflicts are things like “I don’t like you”. And truly, most emotional conflicts are very likely to have come out of distorting the logical conflicts.

We had a client who represented a government office. He used to come into the station regularly for news interviews as an expert in his field, and advertised when it was appropriate. Our station manager suggested to the News Director that we were hearing a lot out of that one guy lately, and asked him to interview some others. Just widen the net and spread the opportunity to be on the radio around to additional experts. As a publicly-licensed entity, radio stations employ this wider-net policy for the good of the community so they can hear multiple perspectives. We saw it as a logical conflict between the client and the policy.

But the client took this as a direct insult, and never came back for another interview. He saw it as an emotional conflict. His pride was injured and he wouldn’t hear reason. He actively derailed efforts by our salespeople to sell into the organization around him.

Given his sway in the organization, it seems we cannot resolve this until he retires. I have a decision to make: I can spend more time going to his boss and working around him, or I can look for other, less combative prospects. In this case, avoidance is a better use of my time.

Logical conflicts are fairly easy to understand: we understand someone if needs their widgets delivered on a date that you can’t hit. Or we all have budgets and understand when a client just can’t get past the price. Sometimes the timing isn’t right and you turn a “no” into a “not right now.” These are clearly out of your control and logical conflicts don’t keep you up at night.

Emotional conflicts feel worse because the reasons someone has in an emotional conflict often don’t make sense to us. Or worse, sometimes you don’t even get the benefit of an explanation and are left wondering what happened.  

A prospect who feels wronged might flair and think they’re justified in treating a sales rep with anger and contempt. You can end up feeling very threatened and out of control. Who wants to set themselves up for that? It’s hard to be an empathetic person, want to help others, and knowingly walk into a confrontational situation.

We’ve had business owners refuse to meet our salespeople, which were almost always emotional conflicts rather than logical conflicts. One business owner has owned an RV store for over 20 years, and the rational response for him should be to advertise with a consistent schedule, attend our events, and make the most of our large audience. He has thrown out numerous reps over the years until one finally stood his ground and asked “why are you so angry with us?

Clearly angry and jabbing like he meant to hurt the rep, the prospect said “you let the RV dealer from the next market over advertise in our town!” This was factually true. It had to be hard for the rep to not say the equivalent of “if you’d advertised with us, we wouldn’t have gone looking for someone in your category,” but he’s a not as petty as I can be.

That rep knew the out-of-town-dealer recently changed hands, and took their advertising with them in the process. They wouldn’t be advertising with us in the future. Prudently, the rep didn’t give up all his information without getting something in exchange. He intended to fish this emotional conflict out of the murky depths and land it on logical ground. He asked “if they didn’t advertise any more, would you be willing to talk with me about promoting your business?

The possibility of a big competitor exiting the market was compelling enough that the business owner was willing to listen. This rep brought the hostile prospect information that was relevant and valuable. He wouldn’t have known to offer that if he hadn’t engaged a hostile prospect, and he couldn’t have provided that info to diffuse the situation if he had avoided the conflict.

When you can maintain your rational bearing, you could actually help someone who is feeling very emotional about their issue. Let them talk. If you hear them out, they might give you some objective information you can address.


[1] Natalie Bel Hill, “Why Do We Avoid Confrontation?“ Elite Daily, April 2015. https://www.elitedaily.com/life/culture/avoid-confrontation/1007777