Resolving Conflicts With Business Partners

Resolving Conflicts With Business Partners
Rhonda R. Savage

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Two years ago, I met Bob and Tim; two business partners who were so different that they couldn’t see their way past their differences. They were ready to dissolve the business relationship. Employees felt torn by loyalties to both; the clients felt the tension and were leaving the business. The owners were not on the same page. 

The owners felt there was nothing that could be done, but there was: We started with values. Values may seem like a fluff topic, but they’re not. 

Most relationships, whether in business or in personal life, fail due to unclear expectations or unmet needs. Beginning with values helps clarify foundationally what you’re all about, as a person. What Bob and Tim found was that they were closer in values than they thought. This isn’t a fairy tale; this situation actually happened. Your relationship may not be salvageable, but I’m hoping it is. 

Step 1: 

Begin by writing down your values personally. What words drive you to be who you are? The words that matter to me include: 

  • Honesty
  • Hard work
  • Timeliness: I consider repetitive lateness to be a sign of disrespect. Show me someone who is consistently late and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t want to be there.
  • Directness
  • Respectfulness: Be kind in your approach, with good intentions in your heart.
  • Integrity, which to me means doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. 

These are the value words that matter to me. What are the words that matter to the partners in your business? Do you share any similar words? 

Step 2: 

Talk about what your words mean to you. 

Step 3: 

Write down the reasons you wanted to be in business with your partner in the first place: What were your goals? 

How do your goals stack up against your values? What are your shared goals? 

Step 4: 

Look deep inside yourself. What are your intentions? Do you want to work this out? 

State your intentions, but be clear in your mind and heart about what you truly want from the situation. 

Step 5: 

Can you agree to disagree? You’ll not always see eye to eye. 

Are you different in communication styles? Have you worked with a communication tool called DISC assessment or any private coaching? 

Have you had leadership meetings through your time together? Do you work from an agenda and really focus on the needs at hand? 

Do you have a leadership policy manual? 

Step 6: 

All your goals, tasks, and efforts must come back and be weighed against your values. 

And finally, ask yourself, are you stronger together or apart? 

After one year of working with me, Bob and Tim were stronger as a partnership and had built out a larger, new space and invested in their relationship. They agreed to be different and respect their differences. 

They now have regular leadership meetings with their office manager, as well as partnership meetings. 

What do these meetings look like? They have a well thought out agenda, and they meet every two weeks. 

They’ve agreed on the following meeting parameters: 

  • They agreed to be respectful
  • They agreed to be present in the moment
  • They’ll be kind and act with good intentions
  • They agreed to have fun but focus on the work
  • They agreed to listen thoughtfully and not interrupt
  • They come prepared 

Bob and Tim also agreed to not let the team play, “Good cop, bad cop,” where staff members try to play them against each other. They agreed to hear staff concerns, with the understanding with the staff member, up front, that no resolution would happen until the other partner was informed of the concern and they reached an agreement as partners. 

Partners, beware of gossip, negativity and slowness. These three concerns are the bane of a successful business. Hold all team members to the same level of accountability, and hold yourselves at a higher standard to get respect from your team members. 

To get respect from one another, you must demonstrate respect. Respect is earned over time and it’s quickly lost if you explode in anger or give someone the silent treatment: Both behaviors are unprofessional. 

Final thought: Your business can make it if you’re both willing to work at the relationship. A partnership is work, but a strong partnership is also well worth the effort. 

About the Author
Rhonda Savage, DDS, is a motivational speaker on leadership, women’s issues and communication. Visit or email


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