Tips for Working with Angry Business Partners
Did you ever have to work with a person that you were mad at? Years ago, I heard men threaten to take their problem outside at work, and on occasion I've heard women literally scream at each other in the office. But that was a long time ago. Obviously something needed to change about such extreme conflict. Today, we have become more politically-correct, judgmental, litigious—and for good reasons we've also become more guarded and careful. We learn from experience how to work with difficult people even if it is us that needs the work. But other times simply broadening the time perspective and focusing on the bigger picture of our work relationship is all we need to do.
What about when you are mad at your business partner, family member, or spouse at work? There are many articles and other blog posts written about working with difficult coworkers at work or working with a difficult boss. The focus here will be on business partners who are family members, ones that become angry at one another and find it difficult to work together. Conflict with business partners often becomes more difficult when our business partner is also our family member, best friend, or spouse. Emotions become heightened and conflict resolution frustrates us based primarily on the commitment to the relationship. When the business is not making enough money, or even losing money, it’s like being on a sports team that’s losing. Disagreements and fights happen out in the open for all to see. Even when a business makes money, business partners sometimes fight over power alone—which is very awkward for everyone involved. What can we do in these angry business situations? Here are some tips to work out problems with business partners and family members:
- Have written agreements. Agreements have many names, but most of them can be broken down into either an operating or shareholder agreement. An operating agreement addresses how the partnership will function to operate the business. A shareholders’ agreement is intended to clarify the ownership of the business and what happens in the event of partnership transitions, partial ownership valuation or a complete company sale, to name a few. Written agreements alone will not solve all of your partnership problems, but they sure make conflict resolution easier when they’re well-written. They’re good to have to establish understanding, but you should also be wary. Try to learn how to work out problems before referencing written agreements. From my experience, when written agreements are referenced and quoted, the partnership may have already begun dissolving.
- Have a planning process. Notice that I did not say have a plan or even a One Hour Business Plan. A business plan needs to be updated at regular intervals, such as every 6 or 12 months. A quality business planning process, on the other hand, allows time to solve problems openly and capitalize on business opportunities. The absence of a regular business planning process makes conflict resolution more “one-off,” emotionally charged, and less efficient. If you don’t believe me, try a business planning process with some problem solving included for a while.
- Remember the goals for the business. Most business partners are going to fight at some point in the relationship. So hopefully they've learned to fight fairly. When the inevitable conflict arises, sometimes it helps to resolve conflict by simply keeping your eyes on the prize—which are the goals for the business. That can be goals like to make x dollars, relocate the firm, or terminate a longtime employee, for example. What are the business goals here? Share them with all parties involved.
- Critique yourself objectively the best you can. Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Most people are naturally good at criticizing others and laying blame on someone else. We are quick to point out whoever has wronged us. However, how many of us look at ourselves when we are in conflict with another? Ask the simple question, what can I do better to help resolve this conflict? It might be enough to take at least part of the responsibility for the conflict and move toward an amicable resolution.
- Broaden the time perspective. When we are mad at somebody, our relationship focus is often very much in the moment, and that can be good for focus. Other times, it might help us to broaden the time horizon for resolving the conflict. We might have years invested in a productive business/working relationship. Is it worth giving that up over this particular conflict? Family members in a business conflict need to remember that their family relationship is far more important than the business relationship. If we think beyond the present situation of the relationship and remember our commitment to the relationship itself, then we are often enabled to be in a much better frame of mind to solve our problem.
- Other tips to help you get along. At planned meetings, discuss openly what is bothering each of you. Recognize what you cannot agree on and agree to disagree. During any communication, keep it informative and logical. Try your best to replace unproductive emotions at work with logic and reasoning. And by all means agree to stay positive.
When business partners become angry at one another, it creates a serious business challenge. When the business partners are also family members, best friends, or a spouse, then the challenges rise to new levels of sensitivity and difficulty. Before the anger boils over, we can do some things to help resolve the conflict. Using tools such as written agreements, a planning process, goal stating, self-inspection, and broadening the time perspective of the relationship can all help us out of difficult business partnership situations. While there are other tips for working with angry business partners, these are the tools that I have used most often. Drop me a note (at john at planfoundations dot com) and let me know what you have done to resolve conflict with a business partner at work. Copyright © John McAdam 2015. All Rights Reserved.