The one certainty with a business partnership, as with any close relationship, is that conflicts will arise. However, when you’re working closely with another person or group, it’s easy to get emotional and lose sight of the larger picture. This is especially the case when the stakes are high and money is on the line.
A conflict with your partner doesn’t have to throw your business into a tailspin. There are steps you can take to contain and manage disagreements, and find a resolution that leaves your partnership and your business safely in-tact.
Here are four tactics to help you handle conflict:
1. Plan ahead when possible, and stop conflict before it starts
If there are areas of discussion you know are likely to prompt a disagreement with your business partner down the road, see if you can cut them off before they start. For example, one of the most common areas of conflict among business partners is that one partner always feels they’re doing an unfair amount of work. If you’re heading into a new expansion phase, or any other unusually busy time, lay out specific responsibilities in advance. This will prevent any questions about the division of labour.
2. Don’t rush to judgements
For the owners and operators of a small business, every decision often seems large, and deeply personal. When your partner disagrees with you on an issue that’s important to you, it often seems easier to shut down and shift into battle mode. However, finding the patience to stop, take a breath, and consider your partner’s position will help determine whether or not the argument gets resolved quickly and painlessly. Remember the bigger picture: you entered into this partnership because you both shared a vision for the business, and you each brought strengths to the table. If you value your partner as a whole, you must value their viewpoint on this issue, even if you don’t agree with it.
3. Have an ‘active listening’ session
This is a common dispute-resolution tactic in which each person agrees to sit and listen to the other’s position and opinion for a set amount of time (usually just a few minutes). The key to this is that the listener should not speak, nor react, during this set time. It’s a remarkably useful tool for cooling tempers. Moreover, it gives each side new insight into the other’s position. In a business partnership, how each person feels after the conflict is resolved is more important than who wins. If one side feels marginalised and resentful, that result can poison the partnership and the business, over time. Practising active listening can ease any ongoing tensions and make each side feel heard.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for outside help
Sometimes, a neutral third-party can help resolve a business partner dispute. An entire field of mediation exists for this reason – mediators are trained to handle disputes of all kinds. Mediation could lead to a cleaner dispute, faster resolution, and a more favourable outcome for both parties. If the outcome is a compromise, a mediator can ensure that each side is giving up a fair amount. This way, no one leaves the negotiating table feeling ripped off. If a professional mediator doesn’t sound appealing, you could consider using a friend or colleague. However, the person you choose should be fully neutral, and trained in handling disputes. Otherwise, you could wind up with a mediator who does more harm than good.
Conflicts are a given, but you can’t lose sight of the larger goal: to resolve disagreement as effectively and amicably as possible. This can help ensure you and your partner can continue running a healthy and growing business.