What Sales Leaders Don’t Know About Ego and Empathy


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In the past week, three people had discussions with me about recruiting salespeople and suggested that the difference between successful and unsuccessful salespeople is that effective salespeople have empathy and ego.

These people probably use personality and behavioral styles assessments too.  Those assessments, always poorly adapted for sales, feature empathy and ego.  There are three things you must know when it comes to salespeople and their empathy and ego.

  1. The findings mean nothing when reported in a personality or behavioral styles assessment
  2. Lousy salespeople have empathy and ego too
  3. Empathy and Ego are only assets in the right quantity.

This article will focus on #3. 

Empathy and Ego are both a lot like food – you can’t have too much of it or it will make you sick.  And if you don’t have enough of it you’ll be weak. They are really best plotted on bell curves, not bar graphs!

Let’s take empathy.  Salespeople who don’t have enough empathy won’t be able to relate to the problems they are attempting to find and won’t be able to help prospects feel comfortable sharing their frustrations and fears.  In other words, lack of empathy will compromise the listening and questioning competency.  Yet, salespeople with too much empathy will not only relate to the problems they can solve, but they will be empathetic to every stall, put-off, objection, excuse and sob story they hear too.  Here is where an ideal level of empathy can be seen on the bell curve.

Bell Curve

Ego is a very similar story.  Salespeople who don’t have enough ego lack confidence and are easily intimidated. As a result, they have difficulty developing strong relationships, showing their expertise, garnering respect and developing credibility.  Yet, salespeople with too much ego appear to be cocky, arrogant, self-centered ass-holes who don’t understand that selling is all about their prospects, not them.  I can’t tell you how many salespeople each week are forced to hear me say, “John, it’s not about you.”  Here is where an ideal level of ego is plotted on the bell curve.

Bell  Curve

So there you have it.  If you read it on a personality or behavioral styles assessment, just know that the empathy and ego were measured in a social, not a business or sales context.  That makes it inaccurate and nonpredictive. Many ineffective salespeople have empathy and ego.  Too much empathy and ego is just as bad as not enough.  

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Dave: thanks for posting this. I was appalled about a month ago to see a sales website marketing a deck of “motivational” cards to help people get rid of ego before a sales call (I am not making this up). I couldn’t think of worse advice, and it seemed unconscionable that someone would attempt to make money off this notion. I wrote a blog about it, titled “Defanged, Declawed, and Emasculated . . .”

    A few years ago, I wrote about a top-performer I interviewed who had a killer-level of empathy, and ego to go along with it. Your readers might enjoy the article, To an Octopus, ’50’ Means Nothing: Why Empathy Matters.

    As important as empathy and ego are, a curious fact emerged when I wrote the article. A sales recruiter I interviewed for background information told me that she hadn’t had a client who specifically requested those attributes in a sales candidate. I wonder why.


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