Sales anxiety has a tendency to rear its nasty head at the worst possible times while working in sales. Maybe we’re just about to go into an important meeting with a client or maybe we’re about to start calling our leads.

Then all of a sudden…
We’re hit by an uncontrollable wave of self-doubt and anxiety that causes us to freeze, panic and lose focus. As a result we get shifted into a suboptimal state that impacts our performance a few seconds later.
Feeling helpless during these important moments and at the mercy of our anxiety is paralyzing.
Below we’re going to learn ways to weaken the hold sales anxiety has on us. But before doing so, we first have to learn about anxiety and why it works the way it does.
Because as the novelist Anthony Horowitz once wrote:
“You cannot defeat your enemies, until you know who they are.”

Who is Sales Anxiety?

Many of us view the anxiety we face in sales as an enemy and something that always gets in our way.
But this isn’t true.
Simply put – anxiety is our friend.
Quietly working in the background of our minds, our subconscious is a permanent threat detector that is constantly surveying our environment. Every second of the day it’s taking in millions of data points from our environment to assess how exposed we are to emotional and physical pain.

High Exposure = High Threat = High Anxiety.

Anxiety and feeling anxious is simply the internal alarm system that our mind uses to alert us to potential danger. On some days these alarms will feel more uncomfortable and ring louder than others.
Rarely will we experience high exposure to physical pain while working from home or in an office, but salespeople frequently find themselves in situations with high emotional exposure.
Whether it’s calling a stranger who might reject us, falling behind our peers on the sales dashboard or facing an overwhelming challenge of a new sales target…
The sales environment is ripe with stressors. Events our threat detector believes could harm us emotionally – but only if they are perceived in the wrong way.
What this means is the event or stressor occurring rarely matters. It’s how our friendly threat detector perceives them, which determines how exposed, threatened and anxious we feel.
Much like a poorly calibrated thermometer or incorrect weather forecast that keeps us inside on a nice day; this internal threat detector requires consistent calibration in order to accurately perceive the world around us.
To do this, we have to focus on calibrating two key areas of ourselves on a regular basis:
  • Emotions.
  • Thoughts.
This takes time an effort to do, but keeping stressors in perspective is critical for salespeople who wish to perform their best. It’s only when we understand and work with our sales anxiety, when we can reduce the frequency of faulty threats and alarms impacting our performance.
Below we’ll learn how to calibrate these two areas effectively on a regular basis.

Mastering Sales Anxiety – Calibrating Our Emotions

Many salespeople struggle with temporary alexithymia (the inability to put feelings into words) and confuse the terms mood and emotion.
As a result, their internal environment feels like a rollercoaster that rocks them back and forth and side to side. In this highly emotional state it becomes impossible to accurately perceive our external environment.
Moods are overarching general feelings (i.e. good, bad, positive, negative etc.) that are created by an ever changing cocktail of emotions (i.e. envy, anger, jealousy, worry, caution, excitement, trust, etc.).
The more negative our mood, the more miscalibrated our threat detector will be. As a result it will perceive exposure and threat levels that are much higher than they should have been otherwise.
That’s why when we’re in a bad mood, things tend to stay that way or get worse.
To break this cycle we need to spend time developing our emotional literacy. This requires us to label and calibrate the underlying emotions that are creating our bad mood.

Here is a quick step-by-step process to help you get started:

  • Grab a pen and paper.
  • Label each emotion you’re experiencing currently (use this emotions wheel to help).
  • To do this effectively, do not use “I” statements like “I’m angry” or “I’m experiencing guilt”.
  • Create distance between you and your emotions by talking to yourself in the third person. Use statements like “Jeff is experiencing anger” or “You are experiencing guilt.”

This is a clever hack called distanced self-talk that Ethan Kross discusses in his book Chatter. Research shows this is a powerful strategy to reduce the intensity of emotions and stress-response so you can perform better.

  • Curiously sit with each emotion you’re feeling individually and learn how they feel in your body.
  • Ask questions to find out what’s causing each emotion. For example, “What is causing Jeff to experience anger right now?” “Where is your guilt coming from?” Avoid asking “why” questions because they often cause us to invent reasons that aren’t always true.
  • Listen to your emotions and write down what they’re trying to tell you. They offer hidden messages and you’re feeling them because they want to tell you something important (sometimes intensly).
It’s also important to note that you are not your emotions. You experience your emotions which is a subtle but important difference to make.
For example, “I’m sad” versus “Jeff is experiencing sadness” are very different statements. Acknowledging that emotions and moods are experiences, allow them to feel less permanent.
Like all experiences – emotions have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Find comfort in knowing that the challenging emotions you’re currently experiencing as part of your sales anxiety are like waves that will soon pass. Following the steps above will speed up this process and recalibrate your emotions towards a more positive mood.

Mastering Sales Anxiety – Calibrating Our Thoughts

With our emotions and our mood calibrated, we can now move on to calibrating our thoughts. Sascha Heinemann who is a high performance sales coach, has been sharing amazing insights on how to do this.
A few weeks ago he put out a list of 10 negative thought patterns, also known as cognitive distortions, that salespeople often find themselves in.
When these distortions warp our thinking, we start to perceive more threat and more exposure in our environment. As a result, the alarm bells of sales anxiety ring even louder, making it impossible to perform our best on the task at hand.

These 10 cognitive distortions are as follows (work with Sasha here):

1 – All-Or-Nothing Thinking: You adopt black and white thinking. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
“If I don’t hit 100% of my target I’m a total failure.”
2 – Overgeneralizing: If one thing goes wrong, you think that it will all go wrong.
“That call didn’t go well, so neither will the next one.”
3 – Mental Filtering: Of all the things going well, you pick one negative detail out and put all of your attention on it.
You have a successful morning building your pipeline – but can’t seem to get past the angry client email you received.
4 – Overusing Should Statements: You lead with your personal expectations of how the world should work. When people don’t meet these expectations, you get upset and blame yourself or others.
“Why is that buyer not responding? I wrote the perfect email. They SHOULD respond.”
5 – Emotional Reasoning: You choose emotions over objective evidence and facts. As a result, you believe the emotions you’re feeling are telling the truth of what’s actually happening.
“I’m so worried I’m going to lose this deal – this must mean I missed something.” (Even though the buyer responded positively in an email a day earlier.)

Other common Cognitive Distortions In Sales

6 – Jumping To Conclusions: You rush to make conclusions about why people and events behave a certain way, without considering alternative reasons.
“That person I called was so mean. They definitely don’t want my product.” (Versus considering that you may have caught them in a meeting or on a bad day.)
7 – Personalizing: You hold yourself responsible for external events that you don’t have 100% control over.
“It’s my fault that the sale didn’t close. I’m bad at sales.”
8 – Catastrophizing: You imagine and then believe the worst possible outcome of an event will come true.
“If I miss my sales target, I’m going to lose my job. If I lose my job, my family will disown me.”
9 – Discounting The Positive: Rather than attributing positive experiences to hard work and skill, you discount them as “getting lucky”, things “anybody can do” or that they “don’t count”.
“I just got lucky on that deal that closed. I didn’t deserve it.”
10 –  Mind Reading: You assume you know what someone is thinking, but have little evidence to support this belief.
“I just know my manager doesn’t like me and doesn’t think I’m trying my hardest.”

Labelling Cognitive Distortions

Much like how we calibrated our emotions through labeling them and improving our emotional literacy; we can calibrate our thoughts and break patterns of negative thinking by labeling the cognitive distortion that is warping our perspective.
Once you’ve identified the distortion – challenge it, by using distanced self-talk to create space between you and your distortion.
“Jeff – you’re being crazy right now. You’re upset because you’re (INSERT DISTORTION).”
Remember you’re stuck in this pattern because you’re only perceiving your environment from your own point of view. This is problematic when our threat detector is oversensitive and turned too high, which makes it unreliable.

Go back to your journal and try taking a different point of view so you can collect new evidence.

Here are some questions to help you do this:
  • If you were a fly on the wall – how would they perceive the situation?
  • Will the thing you’re worried/upset about matter 10 years from now?
  • How would your best friend or parent see this challenge?
  • If you swapped shoes with the person you’re fighting with, what would they see?

Here are some additional questions found on therapist aid that can also be really powerful to write about:

  • What are you worried about? (Write in detail).
  • How likely is it that your worry will come true?
  • Why wouldn’t your worry come true? (Build a case against your distortion).
  • If your worry does come true, what’s the worst that could happen?
  • What’s most likely to happen if your worry comes true?
  • If your worry comes true, what are the chances you’ll be okay in a week? In a month? In a year?
Our imagination is fluid and always in our hands to control. Journaling is a great way to use it to step back, collect new evidence and perceive your environment from multiple points of view.
More often than not – when we’re struggling with a cognitive distortion, it simply means we’re too close to a problem and we need to take a break.

Who Is Sales Anxiety Really?

If we’re asked to describe a friend of ours – we usually describe the thoughts, beliefs and emotions that collectively make up who they are. We also usually associate them with different situations and times in our life.
If you asked me to describe my old roommate Albert, I would say: “Albert is an old roommate from university who is loyal, kind and often the life of the party.”
With this in mind, we’re now in a good place to pull our friend anxiety out of the shadows and answer the question:
Who is anxiety?
Remember we’re not our thoughts nor our emotions, and instead we experience them. When we name our sales anxiety and create a persona for it, we create even more space between us and them.

To do this we can use this formula:

Emotions + Cognitive Distortion + Situation = Name Of Anxious Friend Inside Our Head

For example, if you typically feel nervous, afraid and paralyzed (emotions) before you’re about to make a cold call (situation); and you usually take rejection personally (cognitive distortion) when someone hangs up on you…
Well that’s not you – that’s just Sally (use any name you like), who has a tendency to take things personally and is trying to keep you safe. 
Acknowledge and thank Sally for having your back, but ask her to step away because she’s being an overly concerned friend.
If you tend to feel overwhelmed, threatened and depressed (emotions) when you lose a deal (situation); and you typically think it means you’re going to lose your job (cognitive distortion) when it happens…
That’s not you – that’s just Jimmy who’s looking out for you, but has a tendency to catastrophize things.
Let Jimmy know this isn’t the time and place for his services.

Next Steps

Leaning into the uncomfortable task of learning about your sales anxiety is not easy. Much like how people grow, change and develop – so will your sales anxiety throughout your career.
Successful salespeople need to be disciplined and patient with the process outlined above. It won’t be perfect the first time you do this and your anxiety won’t magically disappear. But I promise if you consistently practice approaching your inner mind with curiosity and compassion – things will get better.
You’ll become the master of your domain as your sales anxiety becomes more friend than foe.
There are also plenty of additional hacks, behaviors and strategies to expand your toolkit. I deliver these virtually to sales teams all over the world so they can improve their sales performance through better Mental Health.
Check out the link below to see the various training programs I provide to sales teams, if you’re interested in working together.

About The Author

mental health advocate Jeff Riseley

Jeff Riseley is currently the Founder of the Sales Health Alliance and Mental Health Advocate. With over a decade of sales experience – Jeff understands the importance of Mental Health in achieving peak sales performance.

Jeff combines his sales and Mental Health expertise to improve sales performance through mental health best practices. His strategies have helped sales teams become more motivated, resilient and better equipped to tackle stressful events within sales.


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  1. Pingback: How To Overcome Limiting Beliefs In Sales And Life - Sales Health Alliance

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