Business partners, especially those in smaller partnerships, often agree early on that when it comes to big issues in the business, decisions must be unanimous. If they don’t agree, they don’t do it. This seems fair enough, no one wants to feel forced to do something they don’t agree with, but it can also become a problem.
We worked with two New York-based partners recently who were at odds over opening a new office on the West Coast. Though Jake and Amy had talked about expanding to other cities at some point, Amy did not think they were ready and was not convinced that this was the right city for expansion. Jake was going to move there for personal reasons and saw it as an opportunity to expand the business. Amy’s veto strained their relationship to the point that they avoided each other, employees picked sides and client service was being affected.
Though we helped them move forward, you may be able to work through something like this on your own by:
- Acknowledging your underlying interests. In this case Amy thought Jake was not being honest about why he wanted to open the West Coast office. By not admitting that his personal motivations were influencing him he lost credibility. Even his logical business arguments were rejected. In negotiation this is called “reactive devaluation”: one party distrusts the other’s motivations and dismisses what may be valuable suggestions simply because they are the ones offering them.
- Listen as if your mind is not already made up. This may take some practice. In partnerships, like most close relationships, we are hard-wired to make assumptions about the other person. Our brains want to conserve energy so when you hear familiar cues you fill in the rest without really listening. Amy needed to confirm to Jake what he was saying, since he was frustrated that she did not seem to be hearing his ideas.
- Be aware of decision fatigue. Jake and Amy had just come through a difficult business period where they were constantly making critical decisions to keep their business on track. When faced with yet another major decision Amy found it easier to say no than take on another major change.
In this case Amy and Jake worked out an agreement including timing and responsibilities for the new office that satisfied both partners. They also re-established what had been a very resilient partner relationship.