Text Your Business Partner? Communication Tools to Resolve Conflict

© 2024 Richard Chandler, MA, LPC, The Business Partners Counselor

Your choice of communication medium, face-to-face interactions, email, video conferencing, or even instant messaging, can profoundly impact your partnership’s health. Communicating isn’t just about exchanging information; it is also about understanding the intentions and emotions behind the information.

Your communication medium’s effectiveness can foster a healthy partnership or might be a source of conflict. This article gives you tools to choose wisely by adapting communication strategies based on your partnership and the situation you are addressing.

Business partner struggling to communicate effectively via text
Business partner struggling to communicate effectively via text

Why Less Personal Communication Methods Increase Misunderstanding in Troubled Business Relationships

Communicating with your business partner through impersonal mediums—such as texting and emailing—often leads to misinterpretation. Misunderstandings can occur due to missing context and the medium’s inability to convey tone accurately. Texting and email lack nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions, body language, and voice inflection.

Their absence can make the message’s intended meaning unclear. The potential for miscommunication and conflict increases as the medium becomes more “low touch” and impersonal. Absent the “high touch” typical of in-person, video, or even a phone call, the receiver is left to interpret those written words solely from their perspective, which can result in misinterpretation.

Business partner communicating by phone
Business partner communicating by phone

7 Common Communication Channels and Their Impact on Business Partner Interactions

  1. Email: While convenient and efficient, emails lack tone and body language, which can lead to misinterpretation and misunderstandings.
  2. Texting/Instant Messaging: Texting or instant messaging is quick and convenient, making it great for brief, to-the-point communications. However, like emails, these messages lack tone and can be misinterpreted, leading to potential conflicts.
  3. Posts and Comments on Social Media: Whether specific business platforms, such as LinkedIn, or more personal ones, often have more context, reducing the risk of misunderstanding. Unfortunately, people can post when upset sending ripples of disruption to a great many people.
  4. Phone Calls: Phone calls allow for tone of voice and immediate responses, which can help clarify misunderstandings. However, they still lack visual cues and may not be suitable for complex or sensitive discussions.
  5. Video Calls: Video calls are rich in audio and visual communication, making them a good option for more complex or sensitive discussions. However, sometimes technological issues impede communication, and they may fail to pick up the nuances of in-person communication.
  6. In-person Communication (Public): Public in-person communication allows for a full range of verbal and non-verbal cues, providing the most complete form of communication. But it doesn’t offer the privacy needed for sensitive discussions.
  7. In-person Communication (Private): Private in-person communication additionally provides the privacy needed for sensitive discussions. However, it requires that both parties be in the same place at the same time, which may only sometimes be feasible.

Partner Conflict, Misinterpretation, and Cognitive Biases (Perception Filters)

In written communication, it’s common for individuals to interpret the intent behind a message based on their own insecurities or personal fears. Given the lack of vocal tone and facial expressions in written communication, you or your business partner could easily misinterpret even the simplest of messages, especially during times of conflict.

A terse email or a concise text message devoid of additional context can inadvertently feel passive-aggressive or even accusatory. This happens even when the original sender had no intention of conveying such a tone or sentiment. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider potential misconceptions when crafting written communication to avoid misunderstandings.

The Importance of Writing in a Neutral or Positive Tone in Business Partner Communication

Maintaining a neutral or upbeat tone in written communication isn’t merely recommended; it’s essential. Adopting those tones creates an atmosphere of respect, professionalism, and openness. Doing so significantly limits the potential for misinterpretation, which can lead to disagreements and conflict with your business partner.

Moreover, a neutral and positive tone sets the stage for more productive and meaningful conversations, fostering better relationships and understanding between all parties involved. Therefore, regardless of the context or the nature of the message, striving to maintain a neutral or positive tone in all written communications is vital for healthy business relationships.

Business partner approaching written communication with a positive tone
Business partner approaching written communication with a positive tone

4 Strategies for Promoting Neutral or Positive Tone in Written Business Partner Communication

  1. Be clear, concise, and upbeat: Ambiguity often leads to misunderstandings. By being clear, concise, and positive in your messages, you can avoid confusion and ensure that your intended message is understood.
  2. Use non-triggering language: Use neutral language to make it unlikely that your words could elicit a strong, negative emotional response. Doing so fosters constructive dialogue and prevents conflicts.
  3. Past tense for past events: It’s crucial to use “past tense” when referring to past events. If your business partner made a mistake, avoid generalizing that this mistake “always” happens, and instead, treat the mistake as a past event that can change in the future.
  4. Read and revise before sending: Take the time to read your words before sending your message. Doing so allows you to spot potential issues and modify your message to convey a neutral or positive tone.

The Preferred Medium for Emotionally-Charged Topics in Business Partnerships

When discussing volatile or emotionally charged topics, it’s often most effective to resort to more personal forms of communication. These could include in-person meetings or video calls. These methods of communication offer several benefits, including:

  • Nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language, convey richer information than words alone.
  • They provide the opportunity for instant feedback from the receiver.
  • You or your business partner can ask questions to clarify the intent and meaning of the words.
  • Misunderstandings can be handled “on the spot” rather than festering.
Business partners meeting in person to avoid miscommunication
Business partners meeting in person to avoid miscommunication

Therefore, real-time interaction can often prevent misunderstandings, ensuring that all participants clearly understand the points being discussed. It allows you and your business partner to address any potential confusion immediately, thus enhancing the effectiveness of the communication process.

The Danger of Avoiding Difficult Conversations with Your Business Partner

It’s a natural human tendency to avoid confrontations and difficult conversations. This inherent instinct often compels us to resort to less personal and more detached communication mediums, such as emails or text messages.

In person meeting can facilitate information sharing
In person meeting can facilitate information sharing

However, choosing “low-touch” mediums to discuss sensitive issues with your business partner can work against you. Thin communication mediums such as text and email often amplify your problems due to misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and further complications.

I recommend that you approach conflict-prone issues directly and face-to-face. Choosing a more personal and intimate setting for difficult business partner conversations creates a more conducive environment for understanding, empathy, and resolution.

The Value of Writing Out Your Thoughts

When you find yourself having to deal with emotionally charged issues, a helpful approach can be to take some time to write out your thoughts privately first. By having a quiet moment with yourself and putting pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard, you can sort through the maelstrom of thoughts and emotions that business partner conflict can stir up. This exercise in self-exploration and reflection can be incredibly beneficial in helping you clarify what you’re feeling and, more importantly, what you want to communicate.

Once you’ve better understood your internal landscape, you can move on to a more personal medium, feeling confident about what you want to say and how you want to say it. You will now be ready to have a face-to-face discussion or video call with your business partner rather than an emotionally charged text or email.

This method ensures that you express yourself as clearly and effectively as possible, minimizing the chance of misunderstanding and facilitating better communication.

Business partners experiencing improved communication
Business partners experiencing improved communication

The Impact of Communication Medium on Conflict

Our goal in business relationships, in general, and for business partners specifically, is to strengthen the connection and deepen the relationship. In the end, the choice of communication medium can significantly and profoundly impact the conflict resolution process within business partnerships. Whether face-to-face, over the phone, through text, email, or social media comments, the communication medium used can drastically shape the quality of the conversation and resolution of conflict.

You can navigate your business relationships more effectively by being fully aware of these factors and thoughtfully considering the implications of different communication methods. This understanding can help you avoid unnecessary conflict, foster more harmonious working relationships, and ultimately contribute to a more productive and successful business partnership.

About the Author:

Richard Chandler, MA, LPC, is an accomplished executive coach and psychotherapist specializing in business partners counseling. With a passion for enhancing professional relationships, Richard supports business partners in navigating complexities and achieving success. Drawing on his extensive experience in relationship counseling and executive coaching, Richard empowers individuals and teams to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, and foster mutual growth. Engage Richard's expertise to strengthen your business partnerships and unlock your full potential.

Further Reading:

For more analysis on this topic, spend some time with Jakki Mohr and Robert Spekman's publication in the Strategic Management Journal, titled "Characteristics of Partnership Success: Partnership Attributes, Communication Behavior, and Conflict Resolution Techniques".

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