How to Communicate Frustration to Your Business Partner Without an Argument
© 2023 Richard Chandler, MA, LPC, Business Partners Counselor
A business partnership can be just as complex as any other type of relationship. Like any relationship, no matter how strong it is, you’re bound to feel frustrated or upset with your partner from time to time. However, if you are frequently frustrated with your partner, it might be a sign that you could benefit by improving your communication.
When conflicts between business partners begin to interfere with the day-to-day tasks, it can jeopardize the organization’s long-term success. Understanding how you and your partner communicate can help avoid or minimize the damage of frequent conflicts.
A solid communication strategy includes:
- Schedule regular check-ins
- Set healthy boundaries
- If you cannot yet agree, disagree respectfully
- Minimize criticism and its traveling companion, defensiveness
- Slow down conversations to reduce misunderstanding or reacting
- "Respond," don't "react." Do so by introducing a pause prior to responding.
Communication practices that are non-defensive, respectful, and productive can significantly improve the partnership and the business.
As a licensed professional counselor practicing online couples counseling in Minnesota and business partners’ consulting throughout the United States and Canada, I’ll share a few proven partnership communication tips in this article. These tips can help you communicate your frustration more effectively and with less risk of misunderstandings. Keep in mind that everyone is different. It would be best to experiment with these tips to discover what works best for you and your business partner.
Common Frustrations Business Partners Experience
It’s important to understand that feeling frustrated with your business partner is normal. No business relationship is exempt from conflict. It is not unusual for your partners and you to experience friction, and it doesn’t mean that your business is doomed to fail. Your partner will inevitably have a unique viewpoint that differs from yours. What matters most is how you and your partner choose to talk about your frustrations, discuss your issues, and reconcile those differences—whenever possible.
7 Common Issues Witnessed Between Business Partners:
- Money management disagreements
- Disagreements on how to allocate profits
- Misappropriation of business assets or property
- Disputes about the direction of the business
- Not respecting each other's authority or expertise
- An unclear chain of command or responsibility for each partner
- Feeling like there is an unequal division of workload and responsibilities
How to Communicate Respectfully With Your Business Partner
Schedule Regular Check-Ins
One of the most important steps you can take to ensure that disputes don’t disrupt business is to set aside time to talk. Establishing a regular communication schedule can help cultivate trust and understanding between you and your partner. These talks can include everything from small talk and shop talk to more in-depth conversations about your professional relationship as well as the long-term vision for your business.
Establishing communication boundaries beforehand is a great way to make sure these scheduled talk sessions are productive. These boundaries will primarily come into play during discussions that have the potential to lead to a disagreement. Both partners benefit by developing a list of discussion boundaries and agreeing to follow them.
Boundaries for Productive Discussions Could Include:
- Equal air-time—no monologuing
- No raised voices or yelling
- No name-calling
- No eye-rolling or other physical gestures that communicate disrespect or even contempt
- Either partner can call a time-out when emotions become elevated. The other partner agrees to honor the time-out
- The person who called the time-out is responsible for setting a time to resume the conversation
- Agree to use “I statements” instead of “you statements” (see more on this communication tool below)
Disagreements Between Business Partners
If you feel discouraged by any disagreements that arise, remember that even the most successful businesses experience internal bickering from time to time. You and your business partner are not the only ones who have gone through this. If your scheduled talks feel frustrating at first, stick with them; you and your partner(s) will most likely feel better by getting your frustrations out in the open so you can have the opportunity to address them.
The purpose of scheduling frequent check-ins is to cultivate an open and safe environment that encourages communication between your partner and you. Talks in this space could include anything that may be bothering you or your partner. So, if you have any bottled-up frustrations, your check-ins are the time to air them.
At the end of these check-ins, you and your partner will have increased your odds of walking away with a new plan of action to move your business forward.
Set Healthy Boundaries For Communicating
To foster open, honest communication, each partner needs to feel safe to do so. You both need an environment where you feel secure. Establishing boundaries around how you will communicate with each other can help cultivate an atmosphere of trust.
Start by incorporating the abovementioned rules, like no yelling, swearing, name-calling, eye-rolling, or cutting each other off. Both partners should have equal “air time” without one partner dominating the talk space with long monologues. Setting these healthy boundaries upfront can help increase your respect for one another and even increase productivity.
How to set healthy boundaries with your business partner:
The earlier you can set healthy boundaries with your business partner, the better. Ideally, you should establish and reinforce these boundaries from the onset of your partnership. However, that is only sometimes the case. You often don’t know that you’ve failed to set healthy boundaries until you experience the consequences of their absence.
Healthy boundaries will help create a concrete work path for you and your partner. This structure can help you avoid many common issues business partnerships develop. It can even help you and your partner avoid burnout.
Setting boundaries can feel harsh, but you will feel happier in your organization in the long run. It will also increase your business partner’s respect for you because setting boundaries shows that you respect yourself.
Here are a few ways to set healthy boundaries with your business partner:
Agree on a Division of Labor
Create a list of responsibilities for you and your partner. Identify the top priorities and divide the workload as equally as possible. Agreeing to your respective lists of duties can help reduce feelings of workload imbalance. It can also help you better understand each other’s responsibilities. Creating these clear boundary-based structures will put you and your partner on the road to healthy communication practices.
Identify Problem Areas
Take note of any situations that cause you to feel anxious, angry, or resentful. These negative feelings are a good indication that you need to set a more assertive boundary here. Take time to identify your boundaries, their limitations, and how you will enforce them. Keep in mind that you and your partner are likely to have distinct and differing values and priorities, which means your limits will differ.
Communicate Your Boundaries Clearly
After identifying problem areas, start communicating your boundaries in this area immediately. For example, you may feel your partner overstepping his boundaries by ignoring your expertise. Talk to them about outlining clear areas of authority. These conversations can be uncomfortable, but they will ultimately help you avoid miscommunications or unnecessary disagreements in the future.
Reinforce Your Boundaries With Others
If your business partner violates your established boundaries, address the issue immediately. It’s better to reinforce your limits right away than to wait. Additionally, consider that you may not have communicated these boundaries clearly in the first place. You may need to re-explain this boundary to your partner in a way he can understand.
Respect Your Boundaries
If you disregard your limits, others will, too. For example, suppose you’ve communicated your workload boundaries but are still doing tasks your partner agreed to perform. In that case, you are violating your limits. Learn to trust your partner or team members to take on essential duties.
Delegate When You Can
Another vital aspect of setting boundaries is delegating work. Surrendering control of a task can take time for business owners who care deeply about their businesses.
But your work will only improve if you take on a few responsibilities at a time. Learn to recognize when your workload is out of balance and find an employee who can take on the additional work or outsource it.
Pause Before Responding
If you’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, take some time to check in with yourself before responding to a request. This patience can help you avoid overcommitting or saying something that could lead to a dispute with your partner.
Saying no is difficult for most of us, but it can be even more challenging in a professional environment. If you’ve reached your limit emotionally or physically, explain your reasoning for saying no calmly and respectfully. Your business partner will understand your limitations if you communicate clearly.
Sometimes, setting boundaries with your business partner can cause them to react negatively. Often, this reaction is a good sign that the limit you set is necessary. Have a plan for dealing with it when someone inevitably crosses your boundaries. That way, you will be prepared to handle the situation calmly and rationally.
Communicate in Ways That Reduce Conflict
Disagreements are common, and it is vital to deal with them respectfully. Perhaps you and your partner often get so wrapped up in your individual beliefs that common courtesy flies right out the window.
As Dr. John Gottman says, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling are known as the “four horsemen” of disagreements. All of these are counterproductive to fostering strong, healthy communication between business partners.
Antidotes for Disagreement Starters Can Include:
- Practicing a gentle start-up in conversation.
- Building a culture of appreciation.
- Taking responsibility.
- Practicing self-soothing.
Communication Tips to Prevent Conflict
Ideally, it is better if arguments and disagreements don’t get to the point that partners cannot disagree respectfully from the start. Here are a few ways you can communicate with your business partner that will help prevent conflicts:
Build a Foundation for Safe Communication
You and your partner are bound to have different viewpoints. As you continue to make significant business decisions together, disagreements will inevitably arise. Good communication is essential for long-term business success.
- Practice actively listening to your partner.
- Make sure to pay attention to both the words and the emotions behind what he’s saying.
- Empathize with his feelings and point of view, even if you disagree.
Your business partner will be more likely to share things with you when she or he knows you won’t interrupt. This practice can help build trust and minimize the toll of stressful situations.
Understand How to Support Your Partner Emotionally
Don’t presume to know what your partner thinks or feels. Running a business is very stressful. The chances of running into one of the conflict areas listed above are high. That’s why you can’t afford to overlook the importance of emotional support in a business partnership. From the onset, it can be helpful to discuss how to handle challenging times when they arise. Even if you are close with your business partners, you cannot know everything that is going on in their lives.
Differentiate Between Work and Personal Life
If you are in a business partnership with a family member, friend, or spouse, consider how your relationship may differ from one setting to the next. For example, your relationship may take on a more professional tone in the workplace. This tone change can be jarring or cause friction with your partner. Reassure your partner that this disparity doesn’t mean you love or respect him or her any less.
Understand the Impact of Stress
Too much stress can increase your likelihood of responding poorly to criticism. You might even say something reactive that you don’t mean. This reaction may be more extreme if you are in a business partnership with a spouse or family member. Criticism from close connections can have a more significant impact than it does coming from a colleague.
Be Aware of How Your Partner’s Feeling
It’s essential to know when your business partner is upset. Whether he’s upset over something you did or just stressed, it helps to know. Ask your partner what is wrong as soon as you can. Give her or him space to talk and feel heard if she or he is distressed.
Be Aware of How You’re Feeling
The way your work affects you can impact your patience and communication capacity. Pay attention to how you feel and postpone essential conversations to a time where you can be on your best mental game. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge when you need space away from your partner. Occasional distance is healthy and can be encouraged.
Don’t Jump to Conclusions
You and your business partner won’t always agree. Be prepared for the times when your partner disagrees with you on an important issue.
- Pause to consider your partner’s point of view before you react.
- Remind yourself of the big picture: you’re in this together, and you both want the business to succeed.
- Accept that your partner’s viewpoints are valuable, even if you disagree with them.
Support Your Partner’s Professional Goals
Make sure your partner feels encouraged along his professional journey. During regular check-ins, ask about what inspires them, how they want to grow, and how you can support that growth. These kinds of conversations can help strengthen your emotional bond.
Plan Ahead to Avoid Argument Triggers
Keep an eye out for topics that often lead to disagreements. Once you know these topics, you can better prepare for them or diffuse them before they occur. For example, if the business grows and the workload picks up, it might be time to revisit the roles and responsibilities.
Disagree Respectfully When Conflicts Inevitably Arise
No matter how tactfully you communicate, conflicts will arise occasionally. In a close business relationship, you’ll have to make decisions that place your company’s future on the line.
In those high-stress situations, it can be all too easy to react emotionally when your partner disagrees with your point of view. That’s why it’s essential to know how to handle conflicts when they surface. Doing so can help you avoid disputes that damage your relationship or business.
You may take the following steps to handle disagreements respectfully and ensure that everyone feels heard:
Focus on the Facts
Using logic, reasoning, and information supporting your differing points of view can strengthen your argument and help make the debate less personal.
Recognize the Good
Even though you and your business partner may disagree on some things, this doesn’t mean everything your partner says is wrong. Remember to pick out points you agree with (if any) instead of clashing with her or his entire statement.
- Before launching into your perspective, it helps to preface it with something you like about the other’s original suggestion. You may say something like, “I agree with you on the first part of your idea but have a different viewpoint on the second part.”
- Use “I” Statements Versus “You” Statements: When one partner feels blamed, it is common to respond defensively. Using “I” statements can help partners reduce feelings of blame.
Disagree With the Argument, Not the Person
Disagreeing with the argument is gentler than disagreeing with the person. For example, there is a difference between saying “you are wrong” versus “what you said may not be accurate.”
Remember to Listen
It can be easy to get so focused on constructing your argument that you forget to listen to your partner’s words and underlying message. When you actively listen, it is easier to diffuse arguments because your partner feels more receptive due to feeling heard.
Additionally, you may realize you and your partner have more common ground in the disagreement than you initially realized. Frequently, collaboration, when done effectively, can lead to some of the best solutions to conflict. What matters most is how each partner feels after the dispute, not who won.
If disagreements leave lingering feelings of resentment, these feelings can poison the relationship over time. Active listening can help both sides feel heard and negate any bitter feelings of resentment after the dust settles.
According to Gordon Training, the three main components of an “I” statement include:
- A brief, non-blameful description of the BEHAVIOR you find unacceptable.
- Your feelings.
- The tangible and concrete result of the behavior on you
Know When to Move On
Sometimes, you will need to agree to disagree. Walking away can be difficult, but many times, it’s more important to preserve the business partnership relationship than to be correct.
Disagree in the Right Context
Pick a good time to talk to your partner about disagreements. Springing a list of grievances on your business partner when they are stressed is not the best way to conduct a healthy, productive discussion.
Setting aside time to discuss issues or concerns with your partner about your relationship and responsibilities can help both parties plan and come prepared in the right mindset for those meetings.
Seek help from a Counselor or Therapist that also has Business Background & Experience
If you feel like you have tried to resolve conflicts with your business partner, but things are going nowhere, it may be time to seek outside help. Bringing in an unbiased third party’s perspective can be eye-opening for individuals who may be blind to how their actions affect their business partner.
While these tips may seem basic and common sense, it is surprising how easy it is to miss them. Simple tweaks can significantly improve business relationships.
Main Takeaways For Communicating Frustration in a Business Relationship
It’s a given that you will feel frustrated with your business partner at some point. But how you both choose to handle these conflicts when they arise will determine the course of your relationship. Understanding how to solve these disagreements is the key to continuing to work together to grow the business successfully.
By scheduling times to communicate with your business partner about your business relationship, boundaries, and frustrations, you can help build trust and minimize harmful disagreements. When you put these communication principles into practice, you can create a safe, open environment that will lead to a healthy, long-lasting business relationship.
If disagreements progress, don’t be afraid to seek help from an outside source such as a business consultant, business relationship counselor, or professional mediator. Begin with this article detailing how to approach a conversation regarding the end of your business partnership.
Business Partners Can Learn to Communicate Professionally and Skillfully at Work
- Realize that communications with your business partner can significantly improve through business partners' counseling
- Have your partner read this article and our companion article, Business Partners' Counseling, here at this link
- Contact me, Richard Chandler, MA, LPC, by email or by text. We can have a short telephone conversation at no cost, and your partner(s) is welcome to do so too.
- Through that conversation, you will have your questions answered and know if working together makes sense.