Often the blame is laid at the manager's door, but the representative must take a share of the responsibility also. The trouble usually arises when expectations are not laid out "on the table" with both parties unaware of each other's needs, motivations and expectations. The end result is often a lack of trust and respect between the representative and manager which leads inevitably to conflict. A good manager will ensure that a "contract" is created between the manager and the representative and that this contract is "two-way" but unfortunately this rarely happens and if any contract is put in place it is 2one-way2 with the manager outlining what he or she expects from the representative and not the other way around.
So how can you avoid this conflict and start to work productively with your manager? Act on these five secrets and watch the relationship with your manager grow.
Secret 1: Learn about behavioural styles and find out what your own is and your manager's. Compare the two and if there are differences then work on these differences by matching your manager's body language very discreetly. Match their tone and volume of voice, remembering not to mimic only discreetly match. Look at their eye movements and do similar. Again, do similar with body movements. When you start to discreetly match their body language you will be amazed that they start to match yours also. This is the start of the rapport building process and this goes a long way to start the building of trust.
Secret 2: Contract with your manager by getting agreement about how best the two of you are going to work together. Ask questions such as:
"What are your specific expectations of me as your representative?"
"What are my specific objectives and how am I going to be measured?"
"What behaviours annoy you?"
"What motivates and de-motivates you?"
"What reports do you want? When do you want them? What content?"
"How often do you want to visit me in the field?"
Contracting is all about managing expectations. A good manager will always outline his or her expectations and will ask you about yours. Once you both are clear about what each other's expectations are, then this is another building block in the foundations of trust and respect.
One of the hardest lessons I learned was when I did not contract with a senior sales manager. We had completely opposite behavioural styles, which meant that we didn't get off to the best start. He thought I was too energetic, flighty and too much of a risk taker and I though he was too detailed with no personality and constantly stuck in front of spreadsheets. We were in constant conflict because he asked me for reports that I could see no reason for and I was frustrated when he ignored my pleas for more training budget. If we had contracted and discussed our similarities and differences and how best to work with them, we may not have had the conflict that we did have. The result of this "personality clash" was that there was little trust and respect between us and very little communication. Meetings between the two of us were, to say the least, fraught!
Secret 3: Ask for regular feedback on your progress. Ask your manager to coach you. Be pro-active and do not wait for your manager to come to you. On the other hand do not always be seen to be reliant on your manager and give them space. Agree this area of support in your contract. A great time to enlist this support is on field visits. Ask your manager if some time can be "protected" during the field visit to discuss your progress and for them to coach you through any ideas and, or, challenges you have.
Secret 4: Be seen to be a support for your manager. Management can be lonely and stressful particularly if the manager isn't managing their boss particularly well or if the company and/or team results are not doing as well as expected. Be supportive and offer to take on extra tasks. These tasks will not only make space for the manager to work more productively and strategically they will also enable you to develop your own capabilities. Be careful to ensure you manage your team-mates expectations here too. Being seen as supporting the manager can be taken the wrong way by some of your colleagues and on occasion, the less enlightened representatives can see this behaviour as threatening.
Secret 5: Go with your instincts! If you feel that the relationship with your manager is starting to go sour, then immediately call a meeting and openly discuss your feelings. To make this easier than it may sound, again build it into your contract right at the start. Something like, "If I feel our relationship is not what it should be, can I address it immediately as opposed to letting it linger?" Do not where possible discuss your feelings with all of your sales team. You will find some people very supportive and helpful but you may also find that some may go out of their way to reinforce the feelings you have thereby making it more difficult to address with the manager. Always best to tackle these feelings head on without referring to your team mates. If you have a coach, then they are often the best people to enable and support you to handle these situations.
Relationships between managers and representatives usually deteriorate because there was little trust in the first place and as a result openness is not usually achieved. Follow the five secrets and you will go a long way to ensuring a lasting and productive relationship with your manager.
Allan Mackintosh is a professional management coach who after 19 years in the pharmaceutical industry started his own management coaching consultancy, Professional Management Coaching. He is a successful speaker and has recently turned author, having had his first book, "The Successful Coaching Manager" published in August.
Allan can be contacted on 01292 318152, e-mail or visit his website at