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Full of Hot Air

How to handle big egos on your sales team before they're blown out of proportion
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the August 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Alongside such personality-describing adjectives as "competitive" and "assertive," the word "egotistical" is often cast in a pejorative light. But being a little egotistical can be a good thing in sales. Without a firm concept of their own worth, salespeople would quickly be gobbled up by the quicksand of insecurity.

Since such a personality makes one well-suited to thrive in a selling environment, you may be harboring a few shades of ego in your sales force right now. Unfortunately, the same personality trait that makes your salespeople superlative deal-closers may also ruffle feathers in the ranks. Here are a few methods for managing big heads on your sales team:

  • Know how to talk ego-ese. Joseph Weintraub, management professor at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and co-author of The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business (Sage Publications), works with companies dealing with sales strife. To assess individual work styles and identify the ones likely to cause conflict, Weintraub uses a "Stop, Start, Continue" exercise. "Each person writes down what he or she wants the other person to stop doing, to start doing and to continue doing," he says. "We discuss the lists, and through negotiation, we try to build an agreement that fits the needs of the parties involved."

According to Star-Team's "Insights Survey" ($40 at, developed in part by Weintraub, effective communication with a dominant personality depends on sticking to the facts, supporting an efficient environment and putting all projects in writing. Communicating don'ts for strong personalities include wasting time, being redundant, using a paternalistic approach or dwelling on details.

  • Learn how to separate emotion from fact. "Ego is always emotional," says Dave Lakhani, owner of Balls Out Sales & Marketing, a sales consulting firm in Boise, Idaho. Lakhani advises entrepreneurs to address the issues and create a definable outcome. Lakhani also urges managers to let sales team members know they will be evaluated not on an ability to relate to just clients, but to each other as well. One way to encourage cooperation is to create competitions that force members to rely on each other to win. "You'll be amazed how quickly communication and support come around," Lakhani says.
  • Know how to keep egos in check. "Egos are healthy up to a point," says Janice Calnan, a psychotherapist in Ottawa and author of SHIFT: Secrets of Positive Change for Organizations and Their Leaders (Creative Bound). While the ego helps humans survive, it can also interfere with relationships. "[Egos] put us in a 'judgment mode,' where we want to blame each other." It's when the ego takes charge of a situation that "the rational self is out of control," warns Calnan, who offers tips on handling squabbles in the ranks:

1. Encourage an environment in which salespeople provide each other with positive feedback. It's hard to clash with someone who's offered you support.

2. Remember that what we focus on will expand. Focus on what's working, and you'll begin to notice more of what works. Focus on the negative, and suddenly more things seem not to work.

3. Hone in on the strengths of each individual and build on those strengths.

Kimberly L. McCall is president of McCall Media & Marketing (, a business communications company in Freeport, Maine.

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