Creating Discomfort


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My friend, Tim Ohai, wrote a brilliant guest post today: Cooperation Is For Losers. While the entire post is great, one sentence struck me, “You have to be disruptive to the point of discomfort……”

That sentence probably makes many of you uncomfortable, it runs counter to what so many opinions we may have about selling. We want to build relationships, we want the customer to trust us, we don’t want to rock the boat……

But having a “comfortable” customer is the worst thing possible for sales. If the customer is experiencing no discomfort, they have no reason to change, no reason to engage in a buying process. The absence of discomfort is the kiss of death to all sales people.

If we want the customer to change, we have to be disruptive to the point of creating discomfort. They have to view the pain of change to be less than the consequences of not changing. Otherwise we are wasting their time and our time.

There are words here that are undoubtedly causing you some discomfort.

Being “disruptive,” is a word that sends shivers down the spine of most people, including sales people. Being disruptive doesn’t mean being impolite. It doesn’t mean being pushy. It doesn’t mean being overly aggressive, but it does probably mean we have to be assertive. Being disruptive is about getting customers to think differently. It’s getting them to consider there might be a better way of achieving their goals.

Creating discomfort, is not about antagonizing the customer or pressuring them. It’s about creating the “pain.” It’s about making them dissatisfied with the status quo, helping them see things can be better and creating a sense of urgency around achieving this.

Insight is all about being disruptive and creating discomfort. It’s about providing the customer ideas, it’s about showing them opportunities they may be missing, how they can grow, how they can better serve their customers, how they can be more efficient, how they can be better.

We have to disrupt the customer’s current thinking. We have to help them become uncomfortable with the status quo. Doing nothing has to become unacceptable to the customer.

We are always dealing with disruption and discomfort, though much of it may be unconscious. Often, the customer has recognized a problem, they know they need to change, so they are already managing the disruption and discomfort.

Sometimes it’s through our Insight we create the urgency and drive to change.

However it happens, selling is is about disruption and discomfort. If we are uncomfortable with this, we’ll never make the customer comfortable with this.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Dave: the semantics of disruption and pain are most unfortunate. I think this is a ‘glass half-empty / half-full’ phenomenon. (I’ll explain in a second.) The problem is that many salespeople will take this discussion of the need to disrupt or make people uncomfortable as license to be, well, obnoxious. Hence, there’s much digital ink given to clarifying the spirit of ‘making people uncomfortable.’ “What we really mean by this is . . . ” In sales, I can’t think of anyone who has made himself or herself a success through dedication to making others uncomfortable.

    For me, the reciprocal of pain is comfort, and the most successful salespeople are drop-dead talented at exposing opportunities for comfort (‘glass half-empty / half-full’ – it’s all how you think about it.) I think salespeople are misguided if they think they can create or conjure customer pain. The salesperson’s job is to help customers identify latent or overt pain, and then to guide them in deciding whether it’s worth fixing.

    A related blog I wrote on this topic, ‘Is Change The Status Quo the Right Fight?’

  2. I agree, Andrew about the semantic problems in David’ post (who I think highly of). My concern is that we have all kinds of terribly defined terms that are so confused with each other, it’s often that conversations end up with two people using the same word, but meaning completely different things.

    I don’t KNOW what David means when he uses the term. How would I know it if I saw it? What does it look like?

    It’s the same for phrases like “Customers want…” and “Customers expect” which psychologically are completely different things and of different importance for companies, yet we treat them interchangeably. Drives me nuts.

  3. Andrew and Robert: Thanks for your comments. We probably have to agree to disagree.

    1. Sales people don’t need this blog post to be obnoxious. We see this every day. They do this by not focusing on the customer needs, wants, expectations. They do this by not valuing the customer’s time and creating value. They do this by focusing on themselves, their products, and their metrics. If those sales people were to truly understand the concepts of disruption and discomfort, they would see it’s all about the customer. Their condition, their aspirations, their dreams, and how they can achieve them. It’s about helping customers and people improve, it’s about change–which is disruptive.

    2. If we were to be concerned with the words, then we would also have to be concerned about the words change, innovate, risk, improve. All of which involve notions of dissatisfaction, pain, continuous improvement.

    3. All words exist within a context. So to be disruptive or to create discomfort solely for those purposes is meaningless. So we create meaning to those words when we talk about why we are doing this.

    4. There is nothing negative in the concepts of disruption or discomfort unless you intend to make them negative.

    5. Organizations and individuals are already “comfortable” with these notions and know how to harness them positively, “no pain, no gain,” “if it isn’t broken then break it,” “innovate or die,” “the only thing that is constant is change,” “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”

    So, we will probably agree to disagree.


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