Knowing how to avoid conflict may be a useful skill for sales reps but works to the detriment of many sales managers, says consultant Kevin F. Davis, author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top." 

By avoiding conflict, problems aren't addressed and the sales manager earns a reputation for tolerating mediocrity on their team. Next thing you know, the whole team has been negatively affected by their manager’s reluctance to have a potentially uncomfortable conversation.

Sales managers need to abandon the conflict avoidance mindset and embrace productive conflict. Without this mental shift, they can’t push their salespeople to achieve their full potential. Here are three skills that will help you feel more confident in addressing issues sooner.

1. Make the decision to “Do it now.” 

Here’s a simple truth: The sooner you talk to a rep about a problem with their skills, attitude or numbers, the less negative emotion will be involved in fixing the situation. When you don’t say anything, they rightly assume, “well, it must be OK with my boss.” And so, over time, it becomes a bad habit. Now you really have a big problem to solve. Remember this: What you don’t confront, you condone.

2. Don’t make judgmental statements.

Choose your words carefully. Even if you think it’s warranted, avoid using loaded terms. Instead, frame the problem as “we all have to.…” Avoid using the word “you.” For example, don’t say, “You didn’t tell the pricing team soon enough about that RFP, which left the team under major pressure at the last-minute.” Instead, say, “We all need to work together as a team to submit the best quality proposals and win more business. What could we do to better coordinate the timing the next time around?”

3. Focus on the future fix.

In any conversation with a problem performer, you have one goal: to make sure the problem you’re addressing is quickly solved. You can’t just talk about what the person has done wrong in the past, you both need to discuss what the fix will be.

Be clear with the rep about what needs change going forward, and discuss how that will that be accomplished. Does the rep need more training? A better approach or process? Mentoring by a more-experienced rep? Agree on a path forward and a timeline.

You Can’t Manage & Lead Without Conflict

As a sales manager, your company expects you to manage your people, not let them flounder because you’re trying to avoid conflict. The nuance of how you do that — your attitude during the discussion — makes all the difference in the world. It is vital that you have the right mindset for each of these discussions. Your purpose is to help the rep get better. Be a coach, not a critic.