Reducing Social Anxiety to Boost Sales Performance

September 1, 2022

Bruno Lussier, PhD, Matthew Philp, PhD, Nathaniel N. Hartmann, PhD, and Heiko Wieland, PhD

Stock Image of a Business Man Standing in Front Of and Pointing To A Tv Display on the Wall While In Front Of Four Individuals Sitting At A Table Presumably At A Business Meeting

Numerous professions, including sales, involve duties that can lead employees to experience social anxiety, or anxiety resulting from the constant presence of personal evaluation or judgment from others in real or imagined situations. In the workplace, it can appear when speaking in front of a group or expressing opinions in front of superiors. Social anxiety is especially likely to affect salesperson performance.

Studies show that social anxiety is directly correlated with nonverbal and verbal communication behaviors, such as rambling, shaky hands, and unnecessary apologetic behavior. These types of behaviors can be extremely detrimental to a salesperson, especially when working directly with customers. The process of decreasing social anxiety starts with reframing these situations from threats to opportunities. This reframing mindset can be achieved through strong sales manager support and mindful acceptance, which can, in turn, lower social anxiety and boost employee sales performance.

Mindful Acceptance

Mindful acceptance is defined as enhanced attention to and awareness of current experiences or present reality. In other words, it is the simple recognition and acceptance of feelings that arise. Those with high mindful acceptance do not get caught up in the emotions of situations and are able to separate themselves from said situations. They tend to have a clearer train of thought and ease in decision making, which takes less effort and processing power. High mindful acceptance is often associated with a curious, open, and positive approach to different experiences and can aid in reframing social anxiety-inducing situations into opportunities rather than threats.

There are several strategies we recommend to achieve a high mindful acceptance. The first is speaking positive affirmations to oneself. Thoughts like “you can do it,” “it will be okay,” “it’s out of your control,” or “one task at a time, one day at a time,” can aid in the reframing of uncomfortable situations and reinforce positivity. Second, daily habits can increase mindful acceptance. Exercising regularly, putting the phone down, sleeping the recommended eight hours per night, meditation, and healthy eating are all examples of daily habits that can increase mindful acceptance. These habits can help individuals become more energized, more in control of their feelings, more focused, and better at managing social anxiety.

Strong Manager Support

Increased support from managers is the second strategy we recommend to lower employee social anxiety. We define manager support as the extent to which a manager values salesperson efforts and cares for salesperson well-being. In their position of authority, managers have the ability to influence and increase the performance of their employees. Managers can also help employees understand how to learn from mistakes and reframe problems as opportunities. While supervisors' overall presence and judgments are known to cause social anxiety, the opposite is true if said presence is positive. The more the managers interact with their employees, the more comfortable employees will be when facing constructive criticism. Additionally, more interactions between managers and employees foster better relationships, allowing managers to better understand root causes for employees’ social anxiety. Increased support from managers leads to more social connectedness at work, which has been proven to lower stress. Managers are in a position of authority where they can control the amount of stress-related anxiety by coaching employees on proper ways to react to each stress-inducing situation.

Real Estate Implications

Because real estate is a relationship-oriented industry, it is important to take proper steps to mitigate social anxiety, as those who suffer from social anxiety can potentially lose clients or profitable deals. Agents can decrease social anxiety by practicing mindful acceptance, such as speaking positive thoughts like “you can do this,” right before an important meeting with a client, putting the phone down and ending procrastination, or even getting eight hours of sleep per night. These measures are not only proven to increase mindful acceptance and lower social anxiety, but they are also proven to lower stress. When anxiety and stress are low, confidence is boosted, making it easier to land that important client or land that career-changing deal.

Another strategy to mitigate social anxiety, thus increasing performance and profitability, is manager support. Managers should engage with their employees and form relationships with each one. This is imperative, as it allows managers to learn how best to help each employee lower their anxiety. Managers have the power and ability to help lower employee anxiety levels by tailoring their approach to fit each individual employee’s needs, thus coaching employees through difficult and uncomfortable situations. While real estate can produce uncomfortable situations, mindful acceptance and increased manager support can help individuals lower their social anxiety and increase performance.

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Recommended Reading

Lussier, Bruno, Matthew Philp, Nathaniel N. Hartmann, and Heiko Wieland (2020), “Social Anxiety and Salesperson Performance: The Role of Mindful Acceptance and Perceived Sales Manager Support,” Journal of Business Research, 124, 112-125.

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About the Authors

Bruno Lussier, PhD
Associate Professor of Marketing, HEC
Montréal University (Canada)
Dr. Bruno Lussier (PhD – Grenoble University) conducts research on sales force effectiveness, business-to-business (B2B) selling, relationship marketing, mental health, and ethics. He has published multiple articles in outlets including the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Business Ethics, Industrial Marketing Management, and Journal of Business Research. He serves on the ERB of Industrial Marketing Management and Journal of Business Research. Prior to his academic career, he held various positions in sales and marketing in several B2B firms.

Matthew Philp, PhD
Assistant Professor of Marketing, Ryerson University

Dr. Matthew Philp (PhD – Queen’s University) researches issues related to buyer and consumer behavior in a digital and social media context. His work has been published in various academic publications, such as the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Business Research, Marketing Letters, and Psychology & Marketing.

Nathaniel N. Hartmann, PhD
Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of South Florida

Dr. Nathaniel N. Hartmann (PhD – Purdue University) works with companies to perform managerially oriented research on issues related to sales force effectiveness, buyer behavior, and innovation. Nathaniel has been the recipient of the Shelby D. Hunt/Harold H. Maynard Award for making the most significant contribution to marketing theory in Journal of Marketing within a calendar year.

Heiko Wieland, PhD
Associate Professor of Marketing, California State University Monterey Bay

Dr. Heiko Wieland (PhD – University of Hawaii) researches socio-technical innovation processes, market formation, value creation, and professional selling. He began his career in various managerial positions in sales in the technology industry. He was awarded the 2018 Shelby D. Hunt/Harold H. Maynard Award for his contributions to marketing theory. Heiko has work published in the Journal of Marketing, the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, and other top-ranked journals.