Skip to main content
Norman Behar

By: Norman Behar on May 9th, 2016

Print/Save as PDF

How to Manage Conflict Within Your Sales Team

Sales Management

Renan DeBarros asks: How do you deal with office conflicts? On this episode, we talk about performance counseling and how to manage conflict effectively within your sales organization. 


to be the first to watch new episodes. 


Video Transcript

That's a wonderful question because when you think about office conflict, that's driven by either a negative attitude or poor motivation.
Most managers over time become proficient at things like managing sales performance: key results and underlying behavior they're looking for, sales coaching; which gets to the effectiveness of the sales person's use of selling skills or knowledge.
But when you get to attitude or motivation, you actually need an skill called performance counseling. And this is one of the topics we cover in our new book, "The High Impact Sales Manager."
If you have office conflict, it's likely driven by, again, poor attitude or lack of motivation. And you want to think about performance counseling as one of the tools you'll use to address that type of situation. Some of the symptoms you'll see when you might need performance counseling is if you're seeing excessive complaining by one of your members of your sales team, or you're seeing a sales person making negative comments about your company, about you, or about another employee—and that would be a driver of conflict.
So think about, "Okay, this is going to need immediate attention and a process to deal with that." But before we get into the process, we'd like to cover some key guidelines you should have in mind.
The first kind of overarching guideline is what's the underlying behavior that you're seeing. There are behaviors where you are going to want to get human resources working with you early on in the process and consult with them.
Some examples might be: a violation of company policy, anything involving substance abuse or sexual harassment; those are all kind of red flags where you want to get a human resources professional involved early.
But if it's something more like coming late to the office or a negative comment that someone made in the break room, those are things you can deal with with a little bit of guidelines from human resources.
With that, here are some specific guidelines you should keep in mind whenever it gets to a performance counseling session.
Focus counseling on the behavior: You want to focus on the key behaviors that you're seeing. Avoid attacking or labeling the person that you're speaking with in a negative way. Again, you're there to deal with the behavior, not to in any way attack the person you're working with.
Focus on plans for improvement: Stay away from excuses or blame and make sure that the guidelines that you put in place for improvement are practical.
Show that you care about the success of that individual and your sales team. Here's the seven-step process you should follow when it gets to performance counseling.
Step one, open the session in a positive and serious way. You want to make sure that the person understands that this is important. It can be awkward, so you may want to point to prior performance where they were doing well if you can, because what that does is it sets the tone that you know they're capable of having great performance. Then get to the specific behavior at hand.
Step two, after you've opened the session, wait for a response. If you've addressed something that you've seen: a person coming late to work, saying something negative about another employee after you've brought that to their attention; going back to step one—you need to wait for their response.
You may want to pause for a while. Initially they may become defensive, they may deny it. You want to be specific, tell them exactly what you've seen and why and how that impacts performance.
Step three, seek and/or offer a solution. The best solution would be one that the employee that you're meeting with could actually offer, saying, "What do you think you can do to improve the situation?" Obviously, if you have their buy in, a commitment to start to come on time or commitment not to say something negative about another employee, then you've got them invested in the solution.
If for any reason you're not pleased with what they're suggesting, then offer your own solution; and at that point you may want to be directive, "So here's what I'd like to see you do going forward."
Step four, get their commitment to the proposed solution. It's important that they're committed to the solution. You may have to be direct. Say, "Based on what we've discussed, is this something that you can agree to?" If they say yes, you want to take that at face value, you want to be positive.
If for any reason they say no, you don't want to end the discussion on a negative, but you should politely wrap up and say, "I'd like to think about that and I'll get back to you."
Again, if they say yes, you're on the right track. If they say no, you want to wrap up that session. At that point, you definitely want to consult with human resources.
Step five, establish a method of follow-up. Once you've had that conversation, you have an agreed to plan, "I'd like to get back together in about two or three weeks"; or depending on what the behavior was, some reasonable period of time and say, "Has it been an improvement?"
If there's been general improvement, you want to note that. You want to share with them, "I appreciate that", and how that's having a positive impact on morale.
If it's not as good as what you've expected but it's better than it was, you still want to acknowledge the improvement but tell them that there's still work to do.
Step six, close the session in a positive manner. Whether that's your initial meeting or a follow-up meeting, you want to stay positive. This is someone that you've decided you want to keep on your team, so you want to keep the conversation positive. Your goal is to address the underlying behavior, whether that's an employee conflict or some other kind of attitude or motivation issue. Also, you want to set the tone that you have confidence in that person's ability to improve.
Step seven, document the performance counseling conversation. That will vary from company to company. So whenever you have a performance counseling conversation, it's best to check in with human resources first, and find out what kind of documentation (if any) that they would like.
The reason that documentation is important is if you decide you want to reassign that employee to a different role or you want to put them on a corrective action plan, or even terminate employment. That's likely to be company-specific, but it's important that you consult with your HR department.
To recap, here are the seven steps you should follow as it relates to performance counseling to address underlying behaviors driven by poor attitude or motivation.
Step one, open the session in a positive and serious way. Step two, after you've opened the session, wait for a response. Step three, seek and/or offer a solution. Step four, gain commitment to the proposed solution.
If you can't gain commitment to the solution, you'd want to wrap up and come back after you've consulted with HR. Establish a method of follow-up, set a date and time for your next meeting, close every session in a positive manner, and document your performance counseling session based on the guidelines from your human resources department.
By following these steps, you'll have added a new skill to your sales management arsenal, so besides being a great coach and managing performance, you now have some background on performance counseling. All these topics and more are covered in our new book, "The High Impact Sales Manager."

SRG Insights is a Q&A video series where we answer your questions on the topics of sales, sales management, sales coaching, and sales training. Featuring sales experts with over 25 years of sales and sales management experience.

💬 Join the Conversation

Do you have any additional tips for managing conflict within your sales team? Share your tips and experiences here.


Get your question featured on SRG Insights. Submit your question here


New Call-to-Action

About Norman Behar

Norman Behar is a Managing Director at the Sales Readiness Group, A Part of SBI. He has over 25 years of senior sales management experience and is recognized as a thought leader in the sales training industry. His blog posts and whitepapers are frequently featured in leading sales enablement publications, including ATD,, and Selling Power.