Do you find it hard to speak up at work, especially while working in sales?

You’re not alone and salespeople struggle with this all the time.

Whether it’s owning a mistake, expressing concerns that quotas and metrics are set too high, or opening up about needing to take a Mental Health day…

There is something about working in sales that makes speaking up feel almost impossible to do on most days.

Why Is It Hard To Speak Up And Use Our Voice In Sales?

I’m currently reading an amazing book right now called The Fearless Organization, by Amy Edmondson, that explores the importance of Psychological Safety in the workplace.

I’ve written about psychological safety before, but Amy’s book deepens our understanding of the interpersonal risk involved with speaking up. When sales organizations fail to provide psychological safety, the interpersonal risk involved with speaking up, outweighs the benefit of admitting failure or bringing attention to a problem.

It means we fear being punished, embarrassed, rejected and criticized for using our voice, more than we feel the need to do the right thing.

At a biological level, our desire to remain silent makes perfect sense. Our brains and instincts are wired to prioritize our individual safety over anything else.

The problem is our “perceived safety” can change drastically depending on our position on the sales dashboard. We feel more safe in our sales roles at the top, than we do at the bottom. And the interpersonal risk of speaking up significantly increases or decreases depending on our position on the leaderboard.

We can see this biology at work in Amy’s Voice-Silence Calculation.

The “Voice-Silence Calculation”

Why it's hard to speak up at work​For example – let’s say we noticed a problem in our sales process that is causing clients to churn shortly after closing. We’ve already made our commission on closed sales, so addressing this problem has no impact on our personal bottom line.

Unfortunately it has been a tough month and we’re near the bottom of the sales dashboard.

Now we have two options. We can speak up and tell our manager using a “fear-based management” style about the churn issue… Or we can stay silent.

Speaking up would benefit the organization, but would likely take months to resolve. In an unsafe environment, the interpersonal risk would also be high and we’d feel low certainty that our voice/concern/solution would be heard.

On the other hand…

Silence would benefit ourselves and immediately shelter us from any criticism, punishment or rejection created by using our voice. This means interpersonal risks would be low and we’d feel extremely certain that implementing a strategy of silence would keep us safe.

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Why Leaders Need To Create Psychological Safety In Sales

In her book, Amy uses Volkswagen, Wells Fargo and Nokia as examples of companies that experienced catastrophic disasters. Massive failures in business strategy and mistakes that could have been avoided; had their employees felt safe enough to speak up.

Psychological safety is not some new age, wishy-washy or soft strategy that requires leaders and organizations to lower standards.

It’s effectiveness is supported by hundreds of data points. One in particular is the research on 180 global teams done by Google. In their research on “team effectiveness” through Project Aristotle, they found psychological safety was “by far the most important factor” contributing to team performance.

In any team environment where Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA) is high (aka any sales team today); creating psychological safety is literally the foundation for any high-performance culture that supports better Mental Health.

Without it – VUCA creates too much anxiety, fear and silence. This prevents teams from communicating and navigating through rapid change successfully.

Psychological Safety and safety to speak upResearch in her book shows high psychological safety leads to more vulnerability, transparency, candor and error reporting; which leads to improvements in communication, learning, innovation, engagement, Mental Health and overall performance.

Especially for teams that are working remotely, which is why I’d definitely recommend picking it up and reading over the holidays.

In the meantime, if you would like to see some data specific to sales and learn some strategies on how you can actually build a psychologically safe environment in sales – check out this article here.

For programming for sellers and sales teams that help them thrive under pressure, check out the link below.

Learn How to Thrive Under Pressure and Hit President’s Club

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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