Chapter 4 Bullying in Sales & What Motivates the Lying Boss – Innovative Selling


Bullying in Sales & What Motivates the Lying Boss


In this chapter, we discuss how bullying affects salespeople and how it takes a toll on their personal lives and mental health. While reviewing this, we discuss ways of dealing with the lying boss and what motivates people to enact such behaviors. Pathological lying (also called pseudologia fantastica and mythomania) is habitual or compulsive lying and was first described in the medical literature in 1891 by Anton Delbrueck.

Bullying in Sales


Workplace bullying is ongoing harmful or threatening behavior by a person or group of people in your workplace that creates a risk to your health and safety. It takes the form of repeated harmful remarks and attacks or making fun of your work or of you as a sales person (including your family, sex, sexuality, gender identity, race or culture, education, or economic background).

During my career in sales, I have experienced only one personal bullying episode, which lasted 3 months. It caused great stress to myself and my family until I left the company. Back then the laws were not so strict and possibly unsupportive of the bullied person. I have seen others being bullied several times, and often it was a female sales person at the receiving end.

It has always surprised me whenever a person being bullied in the workplace has been reluctant to take the matter further to human resources or an outside ombudsman.

If you think you are being bullied at work by your sales manager or team sales member, you should be aware of the following indicators:

  • being less active or successful in selling, your sales results begin to decline
  • being less confident about prospecting sales, less likely to engage new customers
  • feeling scared, stressed, anxious, or depressed, ending up with a clinical depression
  • often having time off because of stress-related illness, using up all of your sick leave
  • your life outside of work affected, for example, study, relationships, staying at home more often
  • wanting to stay away from work, using up all personal sick leave
  • feeling like you can’t trust your employer or the people with whom you work in a team
  • lacking confidence and happiness about yourself and your sales job, loss of self-esteem
  • physical signs of stress such as headaches, backaches, sleep problems, other illnesses are more critical to deal with
  • feeling nobody in the company will listen to you, causing you to withdraw

To make a complaint in your country, enter the word bullying in Google and follow the appropriate links.

How to Resolve Bullying Directly

If you are being bullied, howsoever subtly, by a work colleague in the sales team, or elsewhere, then please follow these suggestions.

I have always believed in going directly to the source of the problem. Confront the offending person, though perhaps not at work. Ask their reasons for such behavior, and wait for a reply; be silent till you hear a response. If the person says nothing, then express your dissatisfaction with their behavior, and explain that they are out of line and must cease their bullying activity. If, however, the response to your question is of an aggressive nature, as, for instance, “you deserve it,” then ask why. If you disagree, then say, “If you do not desist from this bullying behavior, I will take this to our sales manager and human resources.” Generally, this quells the situation, but there are some people that resist advice and persist with the offending behavior.

If you record the conversation, kindly inform the other party of the recording being taken.

Responsibility of Employers

Your employer has a legal responsibility under the Occupational Health and Safety and Anti-discrimination law to provide a safe workplace. Employers have a duty of care for your health and well-being while at work. This is current in many Western countries, including America, Europe, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. An employer who allows bullying to occur in the workplace is probably not adhering to state legislation. Be aware that in many cases the bullying is their word against yours. Going to senior management without evidence is difficult, but you still have the law on your side.

The Workplace Bullying Institute in the USA, stated that 55 percent of the US population have experienced or witnessed bullying (Wales IAWBH Conference 2010). The author, Mr. Glen Worthington, gave a speech in Denmark about the amount of bullying in the workplace. The statistics varied from 15 to over 50 percent according to what study was published. My own estimate, based on personal experience, would be around 20 percent in the sales workplace, citing jealousy, underperformers, personal dislike, and accusations of a salesperson not pulling his or her weight.

With all the current legislation provided to employees now, it is surprising that bullying is still prevalent today. It is a behavior we should all be vigilant of.1

Lying and Deception

As stated in my introduction, lying and deception was common (20 to 30 years ago), and is sadly common now. Even dealing with global companies, with all their processes and code of ethics statements, the research cited this answer time and again: “I was told this, but when I got into the job it appeared very different than I understood.” Surprisingly, 90 percent of my research respondents agreed the information about the job function, training, remuneration, and commissions were either different, untrue, or deceitful.

This same issue was put to the HR recruiters in the survey, and all said they were unaware of this deception. Are the recruiters also being deceptive to save the embarrassment of being challenged, or are the recruiters deceiving themselves? I think I would consider both. One thing I am sure about is that recruiters go to a specific level of questioning regarding whom they offer and place a head. My research showed this information was lacking in detail; in fact, recruiters provided very vague answers.

The sales organization is doing nothing illegal by lying. In fact, one might conclude that these acts of management deception are no more than “white lies,” although there may certainly be benefits for employees lying in the workplace, according to some. For me, having a manager who lied wasn’t so much of an issue as figuring out how to make him or her stop the lying behavior.

If you are subjected to a lying boss, then get your facts right before you confront them. Trust your gut feeling to determine initially what was wrong.

Both these references convey a clear message that corporations within or outside will lie to varying degrees. This has been demonstrated with recent fabrications of truth among car manufacturers regarding emissions claims. The concerning fact that management will tell lies to employees if the company needs protection is a concerning part of corporate sales.

Exposing Your Boss as a Liar, and What I Should Do

Better to make an appointment with your boss, not at work but somewhere neutral. Firstly, when you meet up, take time to gauge the bosses’ demeanor, and then begin the discussion. If the boss is “evasive,” then start with a general conversation around sales and so on.

Bring up your grievance then stop talking to see how he or she responds. When there is a possibility of bringing down a boss for lying, have your evidence ready at hand and in writing such as an e-mail or diary note.

If he or she argues, saying, “I forgot this” or “Did we talk about this?” or “I have overlooked this, sorry,” and if there is contrition, then give them the benefit of the doubt and request a rectification of the misunderstanding and setting this in writing. However, if the response is negative and resistant and they argue that you are wrong, then bring out the evidence. Please remember not to bring out the evidence at first but to use it if you need it. If there is still an indignant refusal to acknowledge the lie, then plan B is in order.

You have a choice of several options. Utilize contact with human resources, but again I urge you to be concise and analytical about your grievance. Try to take the emotion out of your discussion with human resources, and stick to the facts. Request a resolution immediately.

Note that human resources will schedule a meeting between you and the lying party to discuss and resolve the deadlock. In general, human resources will be on the side of management, but look for a satisfactory settlement without compromising your integrity.

If your grievance is of the nature of a sexual assault, the police are the only port of call for a report and action. Yes, report the assault, but follow the police with their advice.

Understanding Intentions behind Your Boss’s Behavior and Watching Out for These Following Tell-Tale Signs

What are some examples of boss lying?

  • Your boss says that if you do well this year in sales, you will be up for a promotion.
  • Your boss says your commission rate is 1.5 percent of overall sales, but it is really 1 percent.
  • Your boss continually says he or she will come out in the field with you soon.
  • Your boss commits to a pay raise above CPI but gives only 1 percent increase.
  • Your boss promises you a new car next month, but 5 months go by and nothing materializes.
  • Your boss promises you an overseas educational trip but never makes good on the commitment.
  • Your boss promises a family trip to Fiji if you are 10 percent over budget but never makes good on the promise.
  • Your boss promises a drink at the end of a great sales week but never comes.

These are just a few of the great many lies bosses make every day. Small promises progress to larger fabrications of lying and eventually fall apart.

What is Lying is a form of deceptive planning and alternative strategy or a misrepresentation, distortion, or equivocation. Some call this scamming or being dodgy. The individual that lies consistently is generally deficient in a particular personal or work skill or wants to be seen to be far better than he or she really is. We know that the web of deception eventually catches up with them and they are exposed for their fabrications of the truth. The problem for the salesperson is that you have lost all respect.

Strange Behavior

The moment your boss starts to behave strangely or tries to lie to you, it is necessary to know the actual intentions of the behavioral changes. These strange behavioral patterns could be that he or she may be managing you out of the company or trying to hide something they are doing that is against company policy. It could also be that he or she may be having an affair with a sales colleague and thinks you know too, or performing dodgy deals, or is conscious of overcompensation of promises they can’t keep.

Reasons behind the Boss’s Lying Behavior

It is impossible to understand the reason behind constant lying patterns, especially of someone in a leadership position. Is it only a case of the manager being under pressure, or is there a personality deficiency at work? The boss could be feeling threatened, for example, if a bright young sales person is stripping up sales better than the boss did. The lying problem starts small, with perhaps one individual receiver, but escalates into a spiral of lying and ends up as a major lie to manage.

Delivering Empty Promises

Sales managers sometimes make promises that they are unable to keep. This could be a reward for high monthly sales over and above commission, for example, a dinner out with your partner, or a trip overseas for outstanding effort but not running this by management approval for such a promise. The reason behind such behavior is that the individual boss is looking for improved or additional sales to finish up for the month or year. Alternatively, they may want to be seen as a great leader.

Management Skills Will Be Poor

A boss who lies constantly can never handle difficult situations in a positive manner but may take advantage of such situations and cash in as part of their personal agenda. This behavior would, for example, favor other salespeople, alienate you in the sales team, hinder your chances of contributing to sales team decisions, and avoid your opinions. Some sales managers lacking certain management skills will cover up their poor skills by putting the responsibility onto the team members but taking the full credit. To me as a sales person, a manager taking credit for a good sale when you did all the work embodies the worst of management behavior. This in itself is the most demoralizing behavior a sales person will ever experience.

Managing You Out

A very common reason for all of this irrational behavior is that the boss, either under instructions or on their own, is purposely managing you out. Let’s think of this carefully. If your sales are poor for, say, more than 3 to 4 months and you do not make budget or, say, meet only 50 percent of plan, you should expect a tap on the shoulder: “Why are sales bad?” In my opinion, if you have not received a first or second warning by now, including an offer of retraining or assistance, then the company is in breach of its obligations to assist you.

A Final Word of Advice

During your career, you will undoubtedly encounter a lying sales colleague or boss; this is inevitable. How you go about dealing with this unacceptable behavior is a question of your personal ethics and values. Always be on the alert for this behavior, and when you encounter it make notes in your diary for future reference. Having a record is imperative for future use. If the lying persists, follow my method in regard to how to confront the liar.

Prima Donna Management—What Drives the Prima Donna?

I must say I am guilty of this problem, so I can talk about this with some experience. Being the top salesperson in many global companies can make you egotistical and prone to expect the respect that comes with this title. Most of the time, you just want respect and compliments for the sales you have achieved. In some ways you are referred to from your company as a leader to look up to. Other sales members want to exceed your achievements and try to emulate your style.

When it comes to sales team management, sales managers i know have a love–hate relationship with the prima donnas in their sales teams. They love the star player’s passion and hard work, while they loathe the self-centered behaviors that demoralize or discourage the rest of the team.

That leaves sales managers with a dilemma. If they come down hard on a prima donna, that salesperson may just take his her talents elsewhere. But a sales manager can’t afford to ignore the situation, either, as prima donnas are often engaged in behaviors that are detrimental to the team and can sometimes take the sales boundaries to the limits.

A simple truth in sales management is that “what you don’t confront, you condone.” As it turns out, many sales managers admit that they have taken a hands-off approach with their prima donna salespeople, leaving them alone for weeks or months at a time. “Hands off” is a nicer way of saying, “lack of management.” These are common management mistakes.

Sales managers will also admit that they often don’t communicate expectations or set standards on anything other than production results. And remember, a “standard” becomes a standard only if you coach to it on an ongoing basis. So, naturally, your top producers (and everyone else on the team) will come to think that sales production is the only thing you care about. From the salesperson perspective, I would look toward the prima donna and learn anything worth learning. Look at the prima donna’s relationship with their customers; do they have the trust of the customer, and how do they close on the customer? Look at their planning for their territory. Try to weed out the bull, and look for any selling techniques you can adopt, not the bad ones.2

Worst Lies That Salespeople Tell Their Bosses

When we are young and less confident in sales, we often take two lines to reply to the boss’s questions. Of course, it depends very much on the attitude of the boss too, but we have a choice to make.

  • Smoothing things over (white lie response).
  • Being up front and honest.

These two actions will form the basis of your learning phase and will build the character of the type of salesperson you will be all your life.

These are some of the typical lies that sales people use.

  • The budget is not an issue.
  • I have a great memory, so I don’t need to use CRM.
  • I made 20 cold calls today.
  • We lost that deal because marketing was not providing support.
  • I will close all my deals by quarter end.
  • My phone battery was flat, sorry, so I was unable to return your call.
  • These are all qualified opportunities. Truth: Some must be more qualified than others.
  • My CRM was down today—sorry.
  • My car has broken down, so I will have to work from home.
  • It’s a qualified lead, but they have no money.
  • I am working from home this morning.
  • I know the lead buyer personally; he is a good friend.
  • These new leads just advanced right before this funnel review meeting, so I don’t have all the details. Truth: You’re not on top of your accounts.

Remember that when we tell lies, your boss has probably done the same.

OK, why do we bring up these routine fibs all the time? There are things happening in your life apart from work, so sometimes we have to tell a white lie to cover time off without taking leave. I have always formed a very basic view: If you are doing OK with sales and your boss is a good supporter, be honest and say, “I need some personal time off, please.” You may be surprised they will be OK with this rather than finding out you were lying. Remember, one lie to your boss puts you in the watch category.

Let’s Look at the Various Versions of Lying

White Lies versus Habitual Lying

A white lie is said to be harmless or trivial, especially when it is aimed at avoiding hurting someone’s feelings or hiding one’s actions. Are the lies we are telling our bosses considered “white lies” or behaviors that are far more serious? From your boss’s point of view, they may be conditioned to hearing an occasional white lie or two, but if you are continuously practicing this behavior to avoid being transparent about what you are not doing, then it becomes habitual. The white lie is the most popular recourse at work and has become part of regular and routine communication. I am not saying this is right!

Four Lies We Use in Selling

When you look at the following four types of lies, how far do you go to do your job?

Figure 4.1 The 4 lies in sales

The following four types of lies are described here

White lies: In this model, white lies are altruistic as we seek first to help others, even at some cost to ourselves. In practice, there are numerous shades of white, and what we tell ourselves are white lies often tend more toward gray than pure white. It is up to you and your ethics to decide how far you take the white lie. Always remember that continual white lies become habitual. White lies develop from childhood and evolve from there.

Gray lies: Most of the lies we tell are gray lies and are aimed partly at helping others and partly at helping ourselves. They may vary in the shade of gray, depending on the balance of help and harm. Gray lies are, almost by definition, hard to clarify. For example, you can lie to help a sales friend out of trouble but then gain the reciprocal benefit of them lying for you while those they have harmed in some way lose out. Using gray lies further adds to the perpetual circle of lying.

Black lies: Black lies are about simple and callous selfishness. We tell black lies when others gain nothing, and the sole purpose is either to get ourselves out of trouble (reducing harm against ourselves) or to gain something we desire (increasing benefits for ourselves). The worst black lies are very harmful for others.

Red lies: Red lies are about spite and revenge. They are driven by the motive of harming others, even at the expense of harming oneself. They may even be malicious, dangerous, and illegal.

Why Should We Accept Lying in the Corporate World?

There is a degree of acceptability in all situations, so I am told. What is acceptable to one and then another can be very different. Fundamentally, your upbringing will play greatly on this concept. If you are consistently lied to and if you have overlooked the principles of people that lie, then you will be more likely to accept even the black or red lie.

As an ethical and honest salesperson, I would only accept the truth, not even a white lie!

Start your day with a clear head, and fully honest, it makes you feel better.


1 Are Sales Teams Bullying CPG Senior Management to Reject Change? By Tool Box, Jun 29, 2016.

2 March 25, 2011—Managing a Prima Donna Salesperson/The paper shows how to work with a sales prima donna and how to manage such a sales person in the team.