Advice: "My sales manager always needs to have an enemy. How can I avoid his wrath?"

Dear Quota Team, 

I work as an inside sales rep for a wholesale distributor. We sell semiconductor products, connectors, and electromagnetic components. It’s a pretty good job overall, and I have pretty consistently been hitting my quota since I joined here almost three years ago.

The reason I am writing in is because of my manager. I can’t say that he’s a bad guy or anything like that, but he’s extremely difficult to work with more than half of the time. Basically, he takes everything personally, and then holds a grudge against whoever it is that he feels “wronged” him, until someone else gets on his bad side, then he’ll become friendly with you again while he’s upset with someone else. It’s actually pretty bizarre. 

For example: a few months ago I took a week off for vacation, and right before I left, I got a message from a customer, which I forwarded to him (my sales manager) to handle while I was away. Well he sent me a nasty email the following Monday saying that I hadn’t officially left for vacation when the message came in, and that it was my responsibility to handle it. 

Now I’m not saying he was wrong per se. I disagree with him, but he might have a point. The problem was how he acted to me when I got back. He literally gave me the silent treatment, and one word answers for almost a month. It felt like being in a dysfunctional relationship or something. He only started acting normal again when another guy on my team snapped at him and said, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” when he tried to talk to him in the middle of a call.

And this is how it always is with him. It’s like he always needs to have someone who is on his bad side. Any suggestions for how to handle this type of thing? Thanks in advance.  

Walking on Eggshells in Florida 

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Dear Eggshells,

Your sales manager sounds like he’s a bit too thin-skinned to work in sales, but he wouldn’t be the first moody person to get a sales manager job.

It’s a tough predicament, because the truth is that you can’t change him or his character. Only he can do that, and unless he decides that he needs to adjust the way he deals with others (and himself), you’re stuck with the current version. 

So what can you do? Well… you’re a salesperson, aren’t you? You know how to build relationships, right? So build a relationship. You have to spend at least forty hours a week with this person, so why not work to gain his friendship and trust? A lot of his behavior likely comes from insecurity, and by taking the time to make him feel valued, you might actually be able to help him overcome some of these bad (and they are bad) habits. 

It would be pretty tough for him to ignore you or flip out on you if you’ve gone out of your way to develop a friendship (that’s not to say it won’t happen), and who knows, you might find that underneath his mercurial exterior, there’s a pretty decent person who is worth getting to know.

In any case, this is really your only option (aside from switching jobs), so give it a try. Just know that it’s pretty common to have a sales manager – or any type of manager for that matter – who is difficult to deal with. All you can do is do the best you can. Some things are out of your control.

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