Nobody wants to see their business ruin a great friendship, but far too often that is the case for business partners. Companies end for all sorts of reasons, but the stresses leading up to the demise of the organization or business partnership can put untold pressure on personal relationships.
Breaking up is hard, particularly for business partners who are also friends. But there are ways to dissolve a business partnership without ruining the relationship. It takes communication and a lot of understanding, but it can be done. The following insights are based on what I've seen as the common thread between friendships that remain intact despite a doomed partnership.
1. Spot the signs before it's too late.
It's unlikely that the desire to end a business comes overnight. It tends to build over time, with small signs turning into big red flags. Left unchecked, it can reach a boiling point, turning the best of relationships into the worst.
To avoid that and to help ensure an amicable breakup, you need to spot the signs of your failing business partnership before it reaches a toxic breaking point.
One of the more noticeable signs is when your partner's work habits change. If your business partner suddenly starts slacking off or isn't giving the business his or her all, it could be a red flag that something is amiss. Few things can turn a business partnership sour quicker than if one person thinks that they're doing all the work while the other isn't. (This can be especially true if the so-called slacker is reaping the benefits of the company.)
To preserve your business partnership, consider approaching your partner and seeing if something is up. If you leave this sign alone, it could make things a lot worse when you do eventually move to dissolve the business. By that point, there's often a lot of pent-up resentment and frustration.
Another tell-tale sign the business partnership is going south is if you and your partner find yourselves in heated arguments about the direction of the organization. Debating is good, but unresolved conflicts can make it much harder to sell a business, which is why it's important not to let things like that fester—especially if you care about remaining friends.
2. Make a fast, clear and decisive break.
Just like bad marriages can take time to dissolve, the same can be said about a business partnership. But don't ignore tensions, disputes and outright arguments, or brush it off as too much time spent together.
You may think that your bickering is healthy, but if it goes on for a long time, it can torpedo your relationship as friends and as business partners. That's why it's important to make a clean and quick break.
Don't spend months debating if you should remain business partners, or if the business should be sold or one partner buy the other one out. When you reach the point of no return, it is key that you shelve any feelings of hurt, frustration and resentment while trying to dissolve the business.
Breaking up with a business partner is emotional and can even be tougher than a divorce. But it's important not to let the negative feelings creep into discussions. The last thing you want to do is attack your business partner and expect to spend the holidays together later in the year.
3. Keep the dialogue going.
When a business partnership goes sour, it's often the result of a breakdown in communication between the partners.
In order to salvage the relationship, keep the dialogue going—that is, listening as well as talking. When resentment and anger have poisoned the friendship, it's hard to hear what the other person is saying. But truly listening and continuing the dialogue through the entire process can go a long way in preserving the friendship.
To avoid miscommunication, be clear about what you want from the breakup process. If staying friends is the most important goal, communicate that. If making the most money off the business is the objective, that needs to be communicated as well.
4. Be reasonable.
If you truly care about maintaining a friendship once your business partnership is over, it's going to require both parties to be reasonable in figuring out how to walk away. Without that and the willingness to compromise, you most likely can say goodbye to the relationship and hello to a contentious, and perhaps ugly, breakup.
It may require giving up a little more than you wanted, but the goal is to ultimately let go and move on as quickly as possible while keeping the friendship intact. If the process is long and drawn out with quibbles over every detail, it may mean the end of your relationship in addition to that of the business.
5. Call in the experts.
Sometimes even the best negotiations require a third party. For two partners who want to maintain their friendship, getting the advice of an independent expert can go a long way in achieving that goal. A person without a stake in the business can provide objective advice, which can help limit arguments and resentment. (Even calling in help when the relationship is souring can help prevent irreparable damage in the future.)
When looking for outside help, choosing someone both partners can trust is important. Consider contacting a business mediator, business coach or accountant, but try to stay away from retaining a lawyer. As soon as you do that, your partner may take that as a signal that your relationship is over.
In order to cushion some of the blow and preserve the friendship, make sure you are communicating throughout the process. That requires talking a lot, recognizing that it's emotional without letting those emotions get in the way and being reasonable in the negotiations.
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