How to Manage Conflict in Sales
Home 9 Message from the Mentor 9 How to Manage Conflict in Sales

A big part of professional sales is learning how to manage conflict. Not conflict in the sense of fighting and spewing hurtful words at one another, necessarily, but conflict in the sense that often, in a sales setting, you have one idea of how you think something should work, and your customer has another. Although this type of conflict is less intense than what we typically envision when we hear the word “conflict,” it is, nevertheless, still conflict.

Therefore, it is important that we are aware of our individual conflict resolution styles when entering any type of sales meeting. We all have a style that comes more naturally to us or that we are more comfortable with, but that style may not be the best style to use in every conflict situation! The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) is one such tool that allows you to determine your natural conflict resolution style. We won’t delve into an in-depth analysis of the tool for the purpose of this blog, but we will review its five different conflict modes/styles. While reading about the five styles, think about which one sounds most like you.

  1. Competing – You tend to be more assertive in the face of conflict. You “stand up” for yourself and defend your position in an effort to “win.”
  2. Accommodating – You are unassertive and yield to another’s wishes or obey another’s orders even when you don’t want to.
  3. Avoiding – You tend to sidestep an issue when it arises and withdraw from the situation altogether.
  4. Collaborating – You attempt to work with the other person and do some exploring in order to find a solution that fully satisfies their problem.
  5. Compromising – You seek a quick, middle-ground solution. You don’t fully withdraw from the situation, but you also don’t fully explore.

Neither of these five conflict modes is “right” and neither is “wrong.” As previously mentioned, which style you use should depend on the particular conflict situation in which you find yourself. This is why it is imperative that we be familiar with all of them and become comfortable in leaving our dominant mode behind and switching to another mode if the situation calls for it.

Before you enter your next sales meeting in which you anticipate some conflict, be sure to take the time to acknowledge your dominant conflict style. Simply naming it and recognizing that you will likely end up relying on that style when faced with conflict will help you to combat its improper use. For example, if you feel the situation requires that you be more collaborative, but you have a naturally competitive style, you will be prepared to recognize this and move yourself away from your inherent competitive style to a more collaborative one. Being able to adjust between conflict styles (similar to how we must be able to adjust between buyer orientation types as taught in Dimensions of Professional Selling (DPS) sales training) when you need to can make the difference in whether you close the sale or not!

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