January 13

The Fine Balance Between Empathy and Execution


Multiple conversations with particularly good sales managers inspired this blog because there was a common theme in all conversations.

“We’ve been very empathetic with our sales team during these tough times.”

“We’ve shown compassion.”

“We’ve given support and additional resources.”

Then came the big HOWEVER.

“However, we have customers to serve and new business deals to make. We cannot sit back and wait because we have a job to do. And If we don’t do that job, our good competitors will be happy to step in.”   

As I listened to these conversations, I realized that what I was really hearing was sales leaders are now walking that fine line of balancing people and profits. Empathy with the need to execute.

The solution can often be found in applying two emotional intelligence skills in your next coaching conversation. Empathy AND assertiveness.

First, let us address common misunderstanding associated with empathy. Often sales managers think it means letting salespeople off the hook because “you feel their pain.” 

That is not empathy. That is conflict averse sales leadership.

Empathy is the ability to state another person’s perspective, even if you do not understand it or agree with it. It is an important skill because people cannot hear you until you have demonstrated you’ve heard them.  It does not matter how brilliant or spot on your coaching advice is.


Your sales team needs to execute in tough times:  Supply chain issues, balancing work and personal responsibilities or trying to unseat entrenched competitors.

This is when sales leaders apply a second EQ skill:  Assertiveness. This is defined as the ability to state what they need nicely.

Assertive sales managers are good at setting expectations for success.

They are good at not defaulting to go-along-to-get-along behaviors when they see and hear excuses from their sales team.

The key is the sequence of using these EQ skills.

Empathy first, assertiveness second.

When salespeople feel that you know and understand their perspective, then and only then will they be open to an accountability conversation. When they feel understood, they are more open to understanding the need and urgency to get things done.


Sales managers often fail at the empathy and assertiveness framework. Why? Because sales managers need to slow down and write down the conversation you need to hold with a seller that has slipped into bad habits, fear, or complacency.

This is not the time to pretend your robust verbal skills will allow you to say and do the right thing.

Role play this important coaching conversation with a colleague or fellow sales leader. Ask that person to critique both your facial expression, tonality, and actual words.

Challenging times are a part of life. Lead your sales team through challenging times by integrating empathy AND assertiveness into your sales coaching conversations.

These emotional intelligence skills will help your sales team execute the right selling behaviors.

Good Selling!


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