Melinda knew that when the company hired her, it was instead of one of the salespeople who was now less than quiet about her displeasure. There was nothing that Cathy did that was out and out negative or nasty, but the undercurrent of hostility was there. During the past three weeks, Cathy had done everything Melinda asked, but there was always an edge to it all.
Actually, thought Melinda, Cathy turning in her prospecting report a day late, but completely filled out as no other salesperson had done, was an interesting way to zing me. How do I fault her? Tell her the report was a day late to hear how it took an extra day to fill it out properly, unlike anyone else? Do I praise her for handing in a complete report and then ask her to get it in on time next time?
Then there was the sales meeting. During the salesperson-prospect role-playing, she took the role of the salesperson and came up with a really unique way of uncovering the prospect’s pain. Everyone started using it, and the reports of success came in. One of the salespeople actually said to me, “Good thing Cathy wasn’t made manager; that technique she shared with us is terrific.”
Like, what did that have to do with being sales manager? Does that mean I couldn’t come up with a good technique? I’ve got to do something about this now, before this gets worse.
“Cathy,” said Melinda, as Cathy came back in the office from a sales call, “if we could talk for a few minutes, I’d appreciate it greatly.”
“Sure,” responded Cathy, “let me drop this stuff off. Where do you want to talk?”
“Outside, it’s nice. We’ll take a walk around the building.”
Ten minutes later, Melinda and Cathy met up outside.
“Cathy, this isn’t easy for me; I realize you were the other finalist for this job. How do you suggest we go about working together now that the decision has been made? Tell me.”
Cathy and Melinda walked for a minute or so before Cathy began talking. Later Melinda would come to think of this minute as one of her best management decisions.
Melinda has made the first step in turning a hostile salesperson into an ally.
Hostility in the office can take many forms. Fortunately, in most instances, it doesn’t become life threatening. Unfortunately, it can become very destructive not only to the hostile person, but to everyone else. The trite phrase that “one bad apple can ruin a barrel” is true.
Melinda could have reacted to Cathy’s perfect prospecting report by asking her to get it in on time. Cathy’s probable response would have been, “What’s more important, accurate information on which to base company resources or slipshod information?”
Yes, that is a snappy retort, but that is not the point. Simply calling Cathy to task worsens the underlying resentment. Cathy gets to say what she is thinking. Now Melinda has to respond. Back and forth, back and forth.
What does this do for either of them besides feeding the underlying hostility? Nothing.
Cathy’s contribution to the sales meeting, though useful to the salespeople, is her way of getting them to choose whether they line up behind Melinda or her. The sales technique is valuable; the motivation for communicating that sales technique is hostility.
If this situation is allowed to continue, Melinda, regardless of how good she might have been to the company, will be much less effective, even if she remains. She will spend more and more time dealing with hostility and resentment instead of doing her job—motivating increased sales.
Salespeople who are hostile are defined as ones who view you as an obstacle to get around. How they get around you ranges from ignoring what you say to actively campaigning others to see their viewpoint.
Engaging a hostile person in a fight never works. The war will go on for as long as either of you are there. Yes, you can win a battle, but then you know about the war. Who wins the next skirmish? This is precisely what everyone in the office is waiting to see. If they are waiting for the outcome, that is time and mental energy not being used to make sales.
You don’t have to become the hostile person’s friend. You need to engage her energy in what you are both there to do, make sales, not war. Ask her, how do you suggest we do that?
Fighting hostility does nothing to increase sales.