5 Steps for Resolving a Dispute with Your Business Partner
Let’s face it: Being in business is hard work.
And nowhere is that more than being in business with a partner.
While each person brings their own unique style and set of skills, they also bring with them a set
of weaknesses and baggage that are bound to crop up at one point or another.
So what should do you do when your current business partner is – how shall we say – being
less than beneficial to the overall business’ success?
Great question! And one that we’re going to tackle right here.
Step #1: Don’t Panic.
This might sound basic, but it’s the truth. A majority of the time the partner in question isn’t
trying to hurt you or the business. Yes, I understand that they’re actions have been less than
helpful, but the intentions behind them, in most cases, are not malicious.
I always recommend my clients take a little time away from the office and evaluate the situation.
A couple of days over the weekend to think about things, and get a clear head about it usually
has you feeling better about the whole thing.
Step #2: Write Out Your Issues.
This is super important because a lot of times it can feel like there are literally millions of things
that are wrong, when in fact it’s only three or four core issues that manifest themselves in a
So take a minute to write down all of the issues that you have.
And don’t try to filter anything (“well this wasn’t sooo big a deal, but this was!”).
Just write everything down so you can have it one place, THEN go back and see if they are
really the same two or three main issues (e.g., lack of judgment or too much risk taking), just
manifested in different ways.
Step #3: Talk it Out (with someone other than your partner).
Now this is something I really recommend because it gives you a chance to calibrate. Yes, I
know you have some issues with how things are going, and yes, they are 100% valid in your
But what we’re trying to figure out here is if you’re over reacting or making the proverbial
“mountain out of a molehill”.
Talking to a spouse or trusted business advisor – someone who knows you and the baggage
that you YOU have a tendency to bring to the table – is a great step towards figuring out if this
really is as “big deal” as you think.
Step #4: Bring it Up to Your Business Partner.
Obviously this is a big step, but completely necessary if you still believe the issues to be valid.
The reason I don’t recommend jumping into this step right away (which is a mistake a LOT of
people make), is because now you’ve done your homework and are RESPONDING to the
situation instead of REACTING to it.
Depending on the exact list of grievances, an off-site lunch or sit down is probably the best
environment for bringing these issues to your partner’s attention.
And remember, even though you might think you’ve voiced your displeasure several times, this
might be the first time it’s actually registering with your partner.
So stay relaxed, stay supportive and avoid sounding accusatory or angry in any way.
Most of the time people don’t even realize that their actions have had this level of impact on
you. If you’re not sure how to start, here’s some language I’ve recommended in the past.
“Hey Jim, thanks for coming out. Hey listen, I’ve had some observations over the past
few weeks that I wanted to bring to your attention. This is not meant to be accusatory in
anyway, or bad or anything like that. These are just some things that have an adverse
impact on me and in my opinion, our partnership, and I was hoping I could share them
with you, and talk about them openly.”
That usually does the trick of getting the ball rolling without them feeling defensive.
Step #5: Schedule a Future “Check In” Meeting.
Again, very important and often times overlooked.
The reason I like this is because it does two things:
1. Gives the partner a chance to meet again and maybe bring their perspective of the
situation after they’ve had some time to think about it. Sometimes As I said earlier, despite
the number of times you might believe you’ve mentioned this to them, it might be the first time
they really see the impact it’s having on you. So during this time between meetings, they’ve have a chance to think and might come back with some questions or even a few things that
you’re doing that in their minds are driving the situation! A future check in meeting gives them
some space to think, and comfortable circle back on the discussion.
2. Assuming they are ok with everything you said, then YOU will want to have
another opportunity to talk about it and just make sure everything is still on track. In
other words, people can hear what you have to say. Have a genuine desire to change, only to
find that those adjustments weren’t exactly the ones you had in mind (even though you might
have thought they were before). A “check in” meeting, say two weeks later, helps avoid this
very frustrating outcome.
The Bottom Line
Relationships are tough…whether personally or in business.
But when you feel that things might be going a little bit sideways – which happens in EVERY
relationship – take a minute to run through these five steps and see if you aren’t better off for it.
For most people, in most business partnerships…this is good enough to do the trick and get
everyone back on track!