Coaching on personal habit difficult, but necessary

Dear Joan:

I have a situation with an account executive that I am avoiding dealing with for fear of hurting her feelings and/or damaging the relationship. I usually tend to confront problems early on but, frankly, with her I’m afraid the situation could become emotional. 

The basic problem is this person has no listening skills or conversation skills. Whether in person or on the phone, she tends to dominate the conversation, cuts off my sentences, etc. I have noticed she has also done this a couple of times that I have observed her in client meetings.  

I’m sure her behavior does not stem from arrogance, as she is a genuinely nice person. More likely, it stems from nerves. She may be nervous so she deals with it by talking and talking…. But it is really annoying me to the point where I sometimes don’t want to deal with her and I am afraid some clients and prospects may be responding the same way, which of course, is a serious problem. 

How do I raise this issue with her? Is it okay to have this conversation with her over the phone (she is based in New York and I am in Miami)? 


Personal habits are more difficult to discuss than work performance issues. However, this behavior is negatively affecting her relationships at work and could be seriously limiting her ability to sell. The phone isn’t ideal but it will have to do. 

You have some first hand observations, so these will be useful as examples. I assume that you do other coaching and advising by phone, so this should be treated just as any other feedback you would give. The more you wring your hands and sweat over offending her, the more likely you will sugar coat it or tip toe around it. Your best bet is to be straightforward and relate her behavior to how it is hurting her.  

You may also want to contact a few of her clients to see how she’s doing, if doing so wouldn’t be too out of character for you and your company. Many organizations check in with their customers to make sure their needs are being met and if this fits with your operation, I’d suggest you do so. Or, perhaps there is something else you could call a client about and then near the end of the conversation, ask if their account exec is meeting their needs. If the client shares frustration about her excessive talking, listen and don’t criticize her to the client.  

Some clients won’t give negative feedback for fear of getting their account exec in trouble. They also don’t relish facing the person after registering a criticism, so you will have to be reassuring and subtle. This feedback will be useful to you as you gauge the damage she is doing to her relationships and the bottom line. 

Take a few notes before you speak with her, including some examples you want to share. Here’s how to bring it up. “Jill, I know you want to make more sales and you value your relationships with your clients. I’m noticing something that seems to be getting in the way of that.  

I’m sure you’re aware that the sales process is built on relationships and the client has to feel listened to and also feel that his needs are understood. I’ve always seen the most successful account execs use a ratio of about 70/30, with the client doing most of the talking and the sales person asking key questions. I’ve noticed that when you talk with clients, the ratio is flipped. In fact, when I observed you in several client meetings, you cut off the client in mid sentence and talked more than 90 percent of the time. When you talk with me, the ratio is similar. In fact sometimes you even cut me off in mid-sentence.  

This probably isn’t intentional and maybe you only do it when you are nervous, but I know it can’t be helping you build good will among clients and prospects.” 

If she gets upset, so be it. I suspect that she may get a little defensive, so if she does, stay focused on your examples and the negative impact on her. I also suspect that this isn’t the first time she has heard this feedback.  

Shift quickly to an action plan that will help her overcome this problem. Suggest a “drill” that she will try for the next few weeks. Come up with a list of key questions that she will ask. Then suggest that part of the drill is for her to paraphrase the client’s answer and then to ask a follow up question or stay silent and ask them to elaborate. At the end of the meeting, she should evaluate her performance and write down the ratio of air time. Then, for the next few weeks, she will report out on how she did.  

Treat it as on-the-job development that will make her a more successful sales person, rather than a big, personal problem that she has. The more straightforward you are, the more receptive she is likely to be.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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