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I work in a small office where each of has our own set of clients that we have established relationships with over the years. I've recently moved desks and am now sitting almost side by side with another sales person who takes pride in having the highest commissions each month.

For the past few weeks, since sitting near this person, my clients have started disappearing. When I call to service their accounts and leave a VM, during a follow up call I find out that this other sales person has gone around me to contact them and complete the sale. The first time, they said that I wasn't at my desk and the client was in a hurry so I brushed it off as an anomaly. But it has now happened at least 3 times. I assume the person is getting this information while I'm on the phone since my computer is locked when I am away from my desk. Our manager just sees it as friendly competition so not too much help there.

I'd like assistance on how I might start a conversation with my co-worker that doesn't dive into them getting defensive or me accusing. However, I'd also like to try and make it clear that they need to stop this behavior. Any thoughts on how I can approach this conversation?

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  • Do you think he looks at your screen while you're talking on the phone while at the computer or listening to the conversation? – Idontwantmynametobegooglable Jun 25 '20 at 5:59
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    Hello :) I think it would be helpful if you'd include what you've considered to approach the subject, and what about it you think makes it too unprofessional. That way, answerers can better tail their answers to meet a subjective criterion like 'handling it in a way that isn't unprofessional'. – Tinkeringbell Jun 25 '20 at 6:04
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    Also note that Interpersonal Skills is a site for questions about the behaviors people use to interact, so we can help you interact with your coworker or your manager, and help you with your behavior in such an interaction to reach a goal. We can't really offer 'smart tricks' to help protect your client details, like not leaving voicemails or calling from the car. There's another site, Workplace, that might better help you figure out a way to protect customer details from your coworker, if that's what your mainly after. Be sure to check out their site first, it may already have answers :) – Tinkeringbell Jun 25 '20 at 6:06
  • What is it that bothers you about the situation? Is it the loss of relationship with your clients, or the financial impact? (Or both, or something else?) – Juliane Röll Jun 25 '20 at 18:50
  • Updated the question. I think I need to address it directly with my co-worker but am not sure how to approach the conversation without being a jerk and just accusing them. Do you think suggestions on how to have the conversation is better here or the workplace? – Spotted_Flamingo Jun 25 '20 at 19:09
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When your manager does indeed believe that their employees should compete with each other and propagates this as the way your organization operates, then approaching your coworker is unlikely to have much benefit. They do exactly what the management implies they should do. It would be foolish of them to change their behavior just because you are too moral to play the same game they are all playing.

So don't hate the player, hate the game.

The one you should be approaching is your manager. They seem to be under the impression that they are promoting constructive competition. When they incentivize each salesperson to sell more than the others, then the whole organization will end up selling more. But it appears that what they are actually doing is incentivize destructive competition. Employees try to boost their own sales numbers at the cost of harming those of their peers. This results in a zero net benefit at best and a reduction of sales at worst.

So you first need to convince your manager that they are fostering destructive competition and that this harms the business. When you explain the problem to your manager, do not frame it as a "me" problem, frame it as a "us" problem. Don't say "X is stealing my customers and it hurts my numbers". Say "We are stealing customers from each other and it hurts the numbers of our department".

If you can convince your manager that this is the case, then your manager will see the need to establish clear rules of what is and what isn't allowed in the name of competition.

When those rules exist, then you have leverage on your colleagues to get them to stop stealing your customers.

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  • Just think about how this works for a moment. What takes more effort? Stealing a colleague's client or getting a new client? Of course getting a new client. The manger is promoting internal theft between members of the same team. Why would I go get new clients when I can backstab my colleagues for 1/10th the effort but get the same amount of reward? – Nelson Jul 8 '20 at 8:05

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