Business Partnership Advisor

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Chris Reich, Business Luminary

The Most Important Step to Fix a Business Partnership

Email of the Week:

Chris, my business partner and I seem to disagree about everything. We’ve been in business for 3 years and it started getting bad after an argument we had last summer. Our business is doing well but we aren’t functioning like partners should. What can we do?

The Problem

This is quite common and, frankly, natural. We expect business partners to always be able to reach agreeable decisions together but that isn’t always the case. Consider the relationship of married or seriously dating couples. Despite the closeness, 50% of those relationships fail. Why should we expect a higher success rate in business? There is a silver lining. It’s normal to disagree. It’s normal for people to get on our nerves. That does not mean the relationship is doomed. It means that it’s time to make changes.

This Change Can Fix a Tense Business Partnership

At the heart of most business partnership problems are 2 little bugs that infect the relationship. Those bugs are communication problems and lack of respect. These feed each other. As communication breaks down, so does respect. The cycle accelerates the deterioration of the relationship. As respect dwindles, communication gets shorter and more tense. Again, it’s normal. What makes the difference in successful partnerships is a desire to break the cycle and a willingness to accept one’s part in the problem.

Business Partners Meeting is Very Important to Fixing Issues

Having formal meetings is the best way to fix business partnership problems. Chris Reich, Business Mediator


The Solution Is to Have Formal Meetings with Your Business Partner

That’s right. Formal meetings are the answer. This always works if handled correctly. Let me explain what I mean by a ‘formal’ meeting.

The 5 Parts to a Formal Partnership Meeting

It doesn’t mean you dress up in tuxedos and ball gowns. A formal meeting has the following parts:

  1. A set time to meet
  2. A specified meeting duration
  3. A quiet location (you do NOT conduct a proper partnership meeting in a restaurant!)
  4. An Agenda
  5. Most important of all: Agreement to Meet

That sounds pretty serious and maybe a little silly for your 2 person business, right? It does not have to be crazy serious if you stick to the ‘rules’.

“Bob, I’d like to meet with you for about an hour to talk through what we need to do about hiring a part-time person. Can we meet in your office at 2:00? Or, do you prefer a different time? We’ll need about an hour.”  Does that sound too nasty? It meets the 5 requirements assuming Bob agrees to meet.

Where people go wrong is with invitations like, “we need to talk. I can’t do this anymore.” See? That would put someone on defense immediately. Not scheduling the meeting and demanding to talk ‘now’ has the same effect. “We need to talk about staff.”  No set time to get into the right mental space. No agreement to meet. It just starts.

By respectfully following the steps above, you are your partner set the stage for a calm and productive dialogue.

And if Your Partner Refuses to Meet Call a Moderator

If your partner will not meet with you, then what? Then you’ve crossed that line of closed communication. When the talking stops, the tension rises faster. Call a mediator (I like the term ‘moderator’). Having a third, trusted, neutral party involved can diffuse the stress. I use video conferencing to successfully solve problems between business partners. It works because we all can see each other which eliminates the distracted participant. When using conference calls, people can be outside smoking, taking the dog out, making dinner—I’ve seen it all. Video works. Also, people aren’t in the same room with each other. That reduces stress and hostility too. Having a third party conduct the meetings means no one partner will dominate. A good moderator levels the conversation so everyone is heard and agreements reached. That’s why I prefer the term “Moderator” to “Mediator” most of the time.

Why Wait?

Once partners are able to have a formal meeting without breaking out into an argument, things start to get better. And as fast as the negative cycle pulled the partnership down, formal meetings act just as fast to get things ‘good again”.

It’s your business. Fix it.

Chris Reich, Business Moderator




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