Question: Dave, I’m a sales manager, and I’m increasingly losing my patience with salespeople who constantly whine and complain. Any thoughts on how to handle the chronic whiners?

Answer: Believe me, I can empathize with you. I had my share of whiners in my days as a sales manager. I’m thinking of one salesperson in particular who complained constantly. I hated to take his calls. I even have vague recollections of hanging up on him in the middle of one of his rants.

I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear. It’s this: The whining is more your problem than it is his/hers.

Before you turn off completely, let me explain. The most pertinent issue for you is that person’s sales performance. If their performance is sub-par, that’s one thing. If their performance is acceptable — their numbers are good, their relationships with their customers are positive, they generally follow your directions and do what you ask them to do — then view their whining and complaining as just so much fluff. The problem isn’t their complaining – the problem is the impact their complaining has on you.

When he complains and whines, you become upset, you become irritated, and you become exasperated. Notice any pattern here?

There are two ways to solve this problem: Either he/she can stop complaining, or you can stop reacting to it in the way that you have.

First, make sure that you have had a conversation with this person about their whining and complaining. If not, please do so. He may not even be aware of it.

If you’ve had the conversation, and the behavior still continues, and the person is in other ways profitable and effective, then you must change your reaction. Decide to not let the negative comments get to you. That will go a long way to making this person more palatable to you.

In the personal experience I’m thinking of, that was the case. The salesperson was doing a good job, was well liked by his customers, and was performing well. He was just miserable to be around. He could not have been that negative with his customers — just his boss.

If you are still having trouble, then I’d suggest you do a little research and find a book or two that provides you with specific techniques to deal with the emotions this person generates in you. There are a lot of resources out there.

But what if their performance is sub-par? Again, the whining and complaining may be this person’s outlet for a deeper-seated understanding that their performance is not up to expectations and that maybe they don’t have what it takes to succeed in this situation.

Regardless, the whining isn’t the issue — the performance is. Focus on their performance, and put in place a specific set of expectations with quantifiable measurements and deadlines for improvement. If they don’t make acceptable progress, then it’s time to look for a new salesperson.  

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales educators. He’s written nine books, presented in 47 states and seven countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine. Check out his Top Gun Distributor Selling System seminars, held in strategic locations around the country in October. More than 2,145 distributor sales people have graduated from the program.