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Eradicating Sales Call Reluctance

The Most Difficult Salesperson in the World

Frank Lee | November 1, 2000

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Do you know someone who argues incessantly over trivial matters, is intent on winning every argument, and is a professed "expert" in all subjects? This person may suffer from Oppositional Reflex call reluctance. Learn how to recognize and deal with Oppositionals in this fascinating article.

In each of the articles that I write for IRMI, I examine one of the types of Sales Call Reluctance. Other articles are listed at the end of this article. In this article, I will look at the effects of untreated Oppositional Reflex Call Reluctance.

Understanding Oppositional Reflex

This article will provide some examples of untreated Oppositional Reflex Call Reluctance in action, but we must first understand what Oppositional Reflex Call Reluctance is. Like all of the 12 types of Call Reluctance, this is a fear. Oppositionals are afraid that people will not take them seriously or give them the respect they feel they deserve. So, to prevent this from happening, they take preemptive action by striking out and acting in opposite ways, even when to do so is not in their best interests.

Oppositionals argue incessantly over trivial matters, intent on winning senseless battles and not the war. They critique a lot and try to appear as experts in an unreasonable number of subjects. Oppositionals learned along the way that the only people they can trust are themselves, and they rigidly keep others at bay. As a result, they become management nightmares. They will not allow themselves to be managed, advised, trained, or coached. They already know it all and become defensive when help is offered. They also become the most difficult salespeople in the world.

The most common result of this is declining sales. Oppositionals tend to argue with customers, respond in a hostile manner when customers ask too many bothersome questions, and then blame the customer (or anyone else) for the loss of the sale. Most salespeople regard questions as requests for information. Not the Oppositional. They regard questions as attacks on their personal integrity and become defensive and hostile. When sales begin to drop, they refuse to accept that it could be their own fault. They deflect blame to anyone and everyone. Because it is not their fault, they refuse personal counseling or help. Criticism makes them even madder and drives them further from the help they need.

Have you come across someone like this? I have.

Meet Mike

Mike was a business acquaintance. One evening, he attended a meeting where I was delivering a speech on Call Reluctance. Afterward, he congratulated me on my speech and told me that he now knew what was wrong with his wife. "She's an Oppositional!" he declared. "Everything you said about Oppositionals applies to her." He then spent the next 30 minutes telling me about her and giving specific examples of how bad she was. He was thinking of divorcing her. I had never met his wife, so I sympathized, taking him at his word.

Several weeks later, a lady approached me at a workshop. She told me that her husband had insisted she come to see me and she was puzzled as to why. It turned out she was Mike's wife. I was immediately on my guard. I just knew that she was going to attack me. She didn't. She spoke quietly about her family. I asked about Mike. She told me what a neat guy he was. We spoke at length. She never once bad-mouthed him or said anything negative about him. Then it dawned on me. She was not the Oppositional!

It was strange how I had missed seeing the Oppositionality in Mike. After talking to his wife, I looked back on our relationship. His business was not doing well, and he had consulted me several times but had never taken my advice. He was convinced that it was the economy, his cutthroat competitors, and even his own customers that conspired to ruin him. In a civic organization we both belonged to, he had tried to run roughshod over volunteers and had alienated them. He had a tough time accepting personal responsibilities. Now it became clear to me.

The next time I met Mike, I asked if he would like to take the SPQ - the Sales Call Reluctance test. I offered it for both him and his wife. I told him it would help him to understand her better. He agreed. The results came in. As expected, she was not an Oppositional, but his scores on this scale were off the map. I sat down with him privately and explained what the test showed. I could feel him tense up next to me. When I was done, he got up, walked around his office and then sat down and stared belligerently at me. I knew what was coming.

"This test is a crock of #@*%," he said through clenched teeth. He then spent the next 15 minutes explaining to me what was wrong with the test and the questions asked. He saw neither validity in it nor any use for him. I told him I really didn't care. He had taken the test, not me. It was showing his scores, not mine. What he did about them was up to him.

I did not see Mike for several weeks after that, Then one evening he called and asked if I would meet him at his office the next day. He said he wanted to discuss the test again.

I was shocked at his appearance. He sat behind his desk, his clothes in disarray. He had not shaved for a few days. A once tall, handsome man now looked like a beaten animal. He looked up as I came in and waved me to a chair. A silly smile was on his face. He told me that his wife had left him. I told him I was sorry.

"I'm about to lose my business," he said casually, "And for the first time, I know why." I waited for him to continue. "Your stupid test was right, you know. I guess you knew it. After our last discussion, I cursed you for a week. Then I took it out and read it again. I nearly threw it away but then I decided to prove how wrong you and your test were, so I took it to Peter (a mutual friend) and asked for his opinion. The SOB agreed with your test. I got mad at him, too, and left."

He sat back and smiled as if he was enjoying this revelation. I still had not said a word. He continued, "It took me another week before I could read the report again. But I finally had to. It kept me awake at night. I may be Oppositional, but I'm no idiot. I finally realized why my business was dropping so badly—I had stopped selling! I had stopped going out to see prospects or to call them on the phone. I had even stopped talking to my own clients because they just made me mad. They had become so demanding, or so I thought. Now I can see that it was me all the time. They were okay. I was not."

He paused. I sensed he was coming to the end. "It's too late to save my marriage," he said, "But I can still save my business. How do I deal with this?"

Mike had taken the most important step. He had admitted he was Oppositional. The rest was easy. I showed him George Dudley's remarkable book, The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance, and he followed the instructions for getting rid of his call reluctance. He was right. We did not save his marriage; they got divorced. However, he did get out and prospect, and he was able to save his business.

Meet Tony

Tony met me for breakfast one Saturday morning. Tony was an imposing man, prosperous looking, and ambitious. He had taken the test and scored high on Oppositionality. I was surprised because I knew him reasonably well. He was always affable, seemed devoted to his charming wife, and was doing well with his company. He was in management and seemed destined to go places. "If this guy is Oppositional, then he hides it well," I remember thinking. I was waiting for him to prove the test wrong.

After explaining the test report to him, I noticed that he was snarling. It was a restrained sort of snarl, but it was there. To my surprise, he agreed with the test. Despite the snarl, he looked relieved. I was puzzled so I asked him to elaborate. The only reason he spoke as well as he did, he told me, was because of the elocution lessons he had taken. When he was a kid, he had had a speech deformity. His father refused to get help and told him many times how stupid he was and how ashamed he was of him. He refused to send him to college because he did not think he was clever enough. His mother secretly supported him and helped get him into college and helped pay his tuition. His father never even knew he went to college. After he graduated, he worked harder than most and now found himself in a reasonably good position, but his boss was jealous of him and tried to undermine him every opportunity he got. Tony asked what he should do about his call reluctance and I told him. He thanked me and left.

That afternoon, he called. "Guess what?" he said, "My wife loves you!" It seems he had explained the test report to her and told her that he was going to do something about it. She had burst into tears and reminded him that she had seen his Oppositional behavior and had pointed it out to him several times. He just never listened to her. Now, here was a complete stranger telling him the same things, and he finally believed them. She was ecstatic and promised to help.

I did not hear from Tony for a year. When I did, he had called to tell me he resigned from his previous job because he realized the only reason he'd stayed was because it was an excuse to hide his lack of confidence to move forward. He had hated the job but stayed because he was afraid to do the one thing he always desired—go into business for himself. One year had passed, and he now had a thriving publishing business and was on his way to becoming a millionaire.

Meet the Technicians

I met two Oppositionals a few years ago. I was unable to help them, although I did help their manager stand up to them. They worked as technicians for a farm implement dealership. Unhappy that another dealership had merged with theirs, they decided to sabotage both dealerships. They began collecting signatures from their farmer customers on a petition to close down one of the dealerships. When farmers refused to become involved, the technicians made some subtle threats about damaging the farmers' equipment. Farmers signed the petition. They sent this petition to the CEO of the manufacturer.

These two were beyond any help I could provide. They terrified everyone in the dealership. Their manager was finally able to summon up the courage to fire both of them, and the entire dealership breathed a sigh of relief. Here's the kicker—one of the men was related to the owner of the dealership!

What's a Manager to Do?

If you're getting the impression that Oppositionals are difficult, you're right. They rule by intimidation, refuse to follow instructions, and, if on the sales force, they alienate their customers. Does this mean they are inherently bad? No. They are simply afraid and are responding in an unproductive way. Most Oppositionals are actually highly talented, intelligent individuals, but they suffer from frustrated talent. (The two technicians above started their own business and are currently doing well.) Having learned that previous suggestions had not been properly received and acted on, they withdraw and counterattack preemptively. This gets them attention, but not the attention they secretly crave.

It takes a strong and caring manager to help Oppositionals overcome this nasty habit. It is a habit because they do these things habitually. Why should a manager care? For one thing, once the habit has been broken, they usually end up as the most productive employees. Once they come on your side, they will defend you to the death. But first they must respect you. This respect is not automatic—managers must earn their respect.

I remember another Oppositional technician. He was being managed by his Yielder brother who was pulling his hair out. After a workshop, his brother told me, "My brother really likes you." "No," I replied, "But he respects me because he knows I am not afraid of him."


If you are an Oppositional salesperson, my advice is to fix it. Being Oppositional can prevent you from ever reaching your true potential as a salesperson. If you are managing an Oppositional, you should first confirm it by testing. Then read this article again as well as the book, The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance, and understand it well. You could be seen as the company hero if you manage to turn this person around. It's certainly happened before!

Other Sales Call Reluctance articles include the following:

Article Topic
Can You Swim? Referral Aversion
Who's Afraid of the CFO? Social Self-Conscious
Did Your Mom Intend You To Be a Wimp? Yielder
The Telephone Bug Telephobia
All Dressed Up, Nowhere To Go Low Goal
Am I Adequately Prepared To Sell? Overpreparer
The Secret Shame of Selling Role Rejection
Look at All My Friends! Separationist
Appearance Is Everything Hyperpro
A Fate Worse Than Death Stage Fright
You Can't Pick Your Family Unemancipated
The Doomsayer The Doomsayer

Call Reluctance, the Fear-Free Prospecting and Self-Promotion Workshop, and all related terms are copyrights and/or registered trademarks of Behavioral Sciences Research Press, Dallas, Texas. Sales Academy, Inc., is an Advanced Authorized Dealer for the Call Reluctance® Program. Frank Lee is an international expert on Call Reluctance®. He can be reached at (800) 898-3743 or at [email protected]. He welcomes calls or email from salespersons and sales managers even if just to chat about the call reluctance problem.

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