How to maintain healthy relationships with your business partners

There are many factors to consider when starting a venture; feasibility, financing, product to market fit. But what about healthy relationships with your business partners? No matter how earth shattering an idea is, a dysfunctional team can kill a winning start up. If your team is committed to digging their heals in and weathering the difficult times that will inevitably arise, your chances at success are infinitely higher.

Joseph Horak is the Director of the Family Owned Business Institute at the Seidmen College of Business at Grand Valley State University and a licensed psychologist.

“There are a lot of challenges to being an entrepreneur,” Horak says. “There is going to be a whole ecosystem of relationships around you that will also present different challenges.”

Conflict between startup team members can arise from unequal time investment, differing work styles and unmanaged expectations. Whatever the root, it is important to address issues as soon as possible.

How Conflict Is Avoided

Some people have a tendency to avoid conflict because they are just too darn polite. “West Michigan Nice” shouldn’t be an unfamiliar phrase to those who frequent this side of the mitten. The conflict style associated with this term of endearment is one of avoidance.

“We have a tendency to want to be nice and polite than speak more directly and honestly when there are problems,” Horak said.

Fear and aggression can also result in conflict avoidance; if someone on the team is prone to overreacting or communicating with intimidation and anger, others will mostly likely be fearful of addressing an issue with that person and end up avoiding it all together. However it happens, avoidance can cause small issues to grow into gargantuan problems.

How to Address Issues

When addressing a difficult issue with a business partner or team member, it is necessary to lead with sincere, positive feedback in order to facilitate a productive discussion.

“It’s just human nature that if we are going to hear and be less defensive, it helps to hear some positives first to makes us feel a lot more secure,” Horak says. “Then we can hear the negative that is coming in.”

How to Receive Criticism

We all make mistakes, and it is likely that at some point in your startup journey, you will be on the receiving end of criticism. In order to take negative feedback in a productive way, there are a few things to bear in mind: Don’t be defensive, don’t take things personally and do listen. In all likelihood, your partners will be telling you things that will help you out in the long run.

What you can do

Set expectations right out of the gate and do it in writing. Having this point of reference can make approaching future issues easier and will lay the ground for productive conversations. Having frequent and effective meetings will ensure that everyone is on the same page, is clear about their role and is performing as expected.

“Running very productive meetings that are about making decisions and communicating the right things will help conflicts from growing and ensure that issues are getting addressed,”  Horak says.

And don’t just welcome feedback, pursue it. Regularly asking your team what you are doing well and what you can do better will keeps communication channels open and gives everyone a comfortable platform to assess each other’s performances.

“Highly evolved leaders seek out feedback,” Horak says. “So if you are not getting that information, seek it out.”

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