Dealing with Irrational Behavior

Sunbathing on the back deck

Every morning as the sun comes up, my dog Snickers likes to sunbathe on the back deck. Since I am an early riser, I let Snickers outside and start exercising, while my wife still sleeps.

In addition to sunbathing, Snickers is our self appointed Guardian of the Back Yard. She fiercely defends it from squirrels and other small intruders.

At times, Snickers will explode in a ferocious barking frenzy. If this goes on for an extended period of time my wife wakes up  and I get yelled at (not the dog)!

I suppose I’m lucky my wife doesn’t smack me with a rolled up a newspaper. 

So to preserve my marriage, whenever Snickers starts barking early in the morning, I rush out to investigate and quiet her down.

I look first for the usual suspects:

  • The squirrel who runs along the power line above our back fence
  • The curly tailed lizard who hides under the corner of the house
  • A random baby frog who has fallen into our pool that Snickers insists gets fished out

Once I handle the situation, I tell Snickers she’s a good dog and explain to her that the intruder is “All Gone”.  She’ll then resume sunbathing.

Ready to spring into action

This week, there were several days Snickers went completely ballistic around 7AM for no apparent reason. My efforts to calm her down had no effect.

But yesterday I just happened to be out front at 7AM when the barking frenzy began and I discovered why she was going nuts.

Her arch nemesis – the Jack Russell with the Man on the Bike –  was across the street out for his morning run.

Apparently, Snickers can hear her nemesis’s collar jingling from across the street, 70 yards away and behind our house.

There’s always a reason for seemingly irrational behavior  – sometimes I’m just not listening closely enough to figure it out.

As a Sales Manager, I’ve been confronted with employees whose behavior seemed irrational at times. You will no doubt experience this too. 

If it’s a one-time occasion for a Rep, I’ll do nothing. Everyone has an off day once in awhile.

But when there’s a pattern of irrational behavior, it’s best to deal with it asap. I’ll meet with my rep privately in my office and open with,

“I’ve noticed the following issue which seems out of character for you. What’s going on?”

Then I’ll wait for a response. It’s time like this where the trust built through mentoring, recognition, and 1-on-1s can pay huge dividends. A Rep who trusts me may be willing to discuss what is affecting his work. Once I know the reason, I may be able to help.

Reps won’t always be open. Sometimes I’ve solicited the cooperation of a trusted to team member and asked if they know anything. Coworkers usually know more about each other than I do.  If I’ve built trust with my team and they have confidence that I’m looking out for their best interests, this approach can be very effective for determining the root cause of “irrational behavior”.

There’s always a reason behind someone’s seemingly “irrational” behavior – sometimes we just have to work a little harder to figure it out.

Here are some real life cases:

The Youngster was one of my junior reps who lacked sales experience, but made up for it with hustle. She always came in a few minutes early, focused on leading the activity metrics, and was one of the last reps out the door at night. She was high energy and had a great attitude.

After she’d been working for me for about a year, she started arriving late  to work most days and leaving a few minutes early. She also was slipping on the leaderboard and her attitude had soured. After about 2 weeks of this, I called her into my office for a conversation. Within a few minutes I learned that she had broken up with her fiance and was having a rough time dealing with it.

There wasn’t much I could do to help except listen and let her cry in my office. However, this was a turning point in our relationship. I cut her some slack over the next few weeks. She in turn, refocused on work and in a short time had rebounded to her old self.

The Hustler seemed like he was born for Sales. He had good investigation skills, was fearless on the phone, liked negotiating and landing deals.

But after 18 months on my team a switch turned off and he simply stopped trying. It took a few 1-on-1s to pry the reason out of him. He explained that he was jealous of other sales reps who were making more than him because they had a better territory.

Rather than work his way past this by building up his territory or sticking around until we promoted him to a better spot, he gave up and was interviewing outside of the company. I learned about this a week before he decided to take a job with a startup.

I was disappointed because the Hustler seemed so promising when he joined my team. However, I didn’t try to talk him out of leaving. Once a rep gives up trying, it’s better for him to move on.

The Unnamed are the many employees who have dealt with issues around divorce, alcoholism, drugs, finances and family matters. Whether they tell you about it or not, at some point everyone on your team has something they are dealing with – sometimes these issues will be a disruption.

Although  I’ve personally found HR and EAP programs to be fairly useless in helping with these issues, I have frequently recommended employees consider seeking therapy or professional help. I’ve needed it myself at times. I’ll share my own experiences with my employees if I think it will help them.

Other times, I’m able to connect two employees who have shared similar experiences. When I’ve asked someone to help a coworker in this way, there has never been a bad outcome.

As I mentioned in a previous post, life happens to everyone.  There are going to be times when your employee just cannot be fully present at work.

As Sales Managers, we are in a position to step back from the daily grind to truly help our employees with meaningful interactions that help them move forward.

All that is required is a little listening and empathy to make a major impact.

It’s this work that builds remarkable Sales teams.

If you want some help building your sales team or improving sales, contact me here. I’d love to hear from you. 

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