As part of our mission to help people in fast-scaling companies learn how to manage workplace stress we interviewed Liston Witherill, the host of the Modern Sales podcast.
Liston is an experienced sales consultant with an enviable sales record earned over many years of coaching sales managers and professionals from all kinds of industries.
Liston helps salespeople, consultants and agency owners sell with confidence. Liston also gets periodically depressed.
After reading his deeply personal and passionate story about Succeeding in Sales While Managing Depression, we wanted to speak with Liston to learn how he dealt with the challenges of managing stress in the fast-growth world of sales.
We want to share Liston’s valuable and practical advice about managing a mental health condition while working in the sales industry so you can learn how to support your team and your own well-being.
Before I share our interview with Liston, I want to share Liston’s five rules for sales success.
Liston’s 5 Selling Rules
Rule #1: Serve, don’t sell
Rule #2: No next step, no sale
Rule #3: Sales don’t just happen over email
Rule #4: No pitching during discovery
Rule #5: You create clients, you don’t “get” them
Each and every one of these five rules are mantras that Pipedrive truly believes in. Our founders and our sales team live by these mantras, and you should tattoo Liston’s five rules across the sales process of your business.
Do you find there is still a stigma around mental health in the workplace? Or in the sales industry more specifically?
In my experience, yes there is. As an example, when I published a LinkedIn update about my own struggle with depression in the workplace, I saw an outpouring of support from people who felt exactly the same way. This isn’t scientific, but as I look around at the dominant voices in sales, I still see a hyper-macho orientation toward sales that suggests any sign of “weakness” - including depression - is unacceptable.
What is your strategy for dealing with high-pressure situations? And for coping with stress in the workplace?
For high-pressure situations, I try to approach them as rationally as possible. That means acknowledging I don’t have complete control over the outcome - only of my actions.
I know that if I take the right action, on average I’ll get the outcome I want, but not necessarily in any individual case. That’s how averages work.
For coping with stress in the workplace, I find the most important thing is what I do when I’m away from work.
That means daily exercise for at least an hour, taking time away from work to enjoy time with my family, and doing something creative every day.
I’ve been able to satisfy my need for creativity with work by writing, recording podcasts, and recording videos every single week. It helps keep me sane.
How does your approach to work change when you’re going through a period of depression?
I get a lot less done!
It typically takes me a week or so to realize that I’m feeling depressed, and it’s almost always because I don’t want to do a large project, or my work life has become too disconnected from how I actually want to spend my time.
When I identify my periodic depression, I acknowledge and accept that it’s happening, and take a few days to take stock of why it’s happening.
Once I do, I create a game plan for allocating my time and effort to the things that will help me minimize my depression.
How do you motivate yourself to succeed when you’re feeling mentally unwell?
I take exception with the term “mentally unwell.”
As I see it - and this is only speaking from my own experience, with my own feelings - periodic depression is an important indicator of misalignment in my life. It tells me that I’m not honoring my own needs. That the things I’m doing aren’t contributing to creating the person I want to be. In this sense, periodic depression is an essential function.
As for how I motivate myself - I appreciate the reminder that I occasionally need to make changes in my life.
I personally find it quite difficult to motivate to do things when I find them pointless, so motivation alone isn’t the aim. However, focusing on the larger, difficult-to-obtain goals is typically the antidote for low motivation for me.
A healthy dose of exercise, family, and social connection helps me stay motivated, too.
What advice would you give to managers in a high-pressure workplace managing a team member struggling with depression?
This is my advice: seek professional advice if you’re unsure of what to do when this arises.
I’m not a mental health or organizational management professional, so this isn’t my realm of expertise.
Here’s what I’ve wanted my managers to do: accept that there’s nothing wrong with me. I just need some time to figure it out. If you’re a manager who truly believes in building a high-performing team, you’ll have to give people the space to address their emotional needs.
Telling people to “get tough” or “snap out of it” will only serve to alienate people you claim to care about.
What advice would you give to salespeople experiencing mental health issues?
I think there’s four critical things you can do to help yourself in this situation (or to help a colleague or team member who is struggling).
Each of these three actions are practical and possible, but all three actions come with challenges. The process probably won’t be easy. But you these three practical actions will help you to manage and improve your health - even in the hectic environment of a sales team within a fast-growing business.
1. Acknowledge that something’s going on and talk to someone about it.
I consider myself quite lucky to have a wife who is supportive and understands that my emotions work in cycles, and that I occasionally get depressed.
When I talk about my depression, it allows me to create distance and objectivity from my emotions. In this way, I’m able to understand how I’m feeling, then begin to understand why I’m feeling that way.
2. Seek professional help.
There’s no replacement for having a trusted mental health professional who you can turn to for tools to address your health. Some people view seeking psychological therapy as a weakness because they should be able to fix themselves. I couldn’t disagree more. It takes strength and courage to admit you need help, then seek it and face some of your most difficult emotions. Understanding your emotions and dealing with them in a productive way is a lifelong skill that helps you in every aspect of your life. Start now.
3. Listen and make a change if needed.
Depression can be the product of multiple stressors and biological factors. But as I look back on the various episodes of depression I’ve experienced, I can trace their triggers to a lack of fulfillment. Rather than making a change, I became depressed. In other words, sometimes depression is telling us to make a change, and I eventually did. These changes led to higher performance and pursuing the things I really wanted (like going out on my own as a coach). The success followed, and so did the sales.
4. Try to take some time off
You might not feel like you have control over this practical action, but you can usually find a way to take some kind of break from your work routine.
Whether you take a spontaneous long weekend vacation, find an hour to take a walk outside over lunch, or just a 15-minute window to sit with a coffee and collect your thoughts - you should try to find a space where you can consciously press pause on your work day.
Changing your environment matters.
Get outdoors, cook, or like me - prioritize time to make sure you can sit down to dinner with a friend or partner.
Time away gives me the space to think about how I’m feeling and why I’m feeling that way.
If you’d like to learn more about managing stress, pressure and mental health conditions at work, we’ve developed a dedicated Guide to Managing Workplace Stress in collaboration with Liston and our partners at Mental Health America.
The guide gives you a collection of expert advice and practical guidelines to help you manage pressure and prevent stress in a fast-growing business. You should share this resource with your team and start proactively developing a plan to prevent stress and manage mental health in your workplace.
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