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Jean Chatzky will be covering a variety of different topics in this space every month. Come back next Tuesday for the third article in this month’s Relationships series. Please leave your relationship questions as comments below and she will address several of the questions at the end of the month.
When you've been in business a long time, your partner – if you have one – can start to feel more and more like family. After all, you’ve chosen to work together because you get along, either personally, professionally, or both. You share common, or at least complimentary, interests, and you probably have different strengths and weaknesses that fit together like a puzzle. Soon enough, he’s coming over for dinner on Sunday nights and digging deeper and deeper into your personal life. Is it a problem? Not if you don’t have a problem with it. But what if you feel like your partner is getting a little too close for comfort?
- Set some ground rules. If you’re in the beginning stages of launching a small business or setting up a partnership – save yourself a lot of trouble and set boundaries at the onset, before they’ve been tested, says Quentin Fleming, a business professor at the University of Southern California and author of Keep the Family Baggage Out of the Family Business: Avoiding the Seven Deadly Sins that Destroy Family Businesses. That way, you’re both clear on where you stand and neither of you will have to initiate any awkward conversations down the road.
- Don’t encourage familiarity. If you’re going to bring your personal life to work – complain about the kids, or your spouse, or anything that doesn’t have to do with your life at work – you’re inviting your partner into your personal space. Leaving your problems at home will be good not only for your relationship with your partner, but also for your business success and your mental health. This works in both directions: if you want to keep your personal life in tact, try not to bring work related issues home with you at night.
- Be firm, but gentle. Dealing with a partner who’s constantly nudging into your personal business is easier if you keep a level head. “Simply take a step back, and a deep breath, and explain that this is your private life but you appreciate their concern,” says Fleming. The idea here is to start drawing lines, but you can’t just do it willy-nilly – a sudden boundary can be abrupt. Instead, have a series of conversations in which you explain that things have gotten too close. Framing the conversation from a business standpoint, rather than a personal one, will make it easier for your partner to swallow, so make sure you emphasize that you think your close relationship may be affecting the business, and give some concrete examples.
- Set goals together. “You have to hold everyone in the business accountable for good business performance and practice,” says Fleming. “That usually involves setting some clear performance goals and objectives. A lot of times in smaller businesses, everything is very informal. People say ‘I guess you did okay this quarter,’ but you each need clear feedback.” Sit down at the end of each year together – or with your employees, if that makes sense – and talk about some expectations. Then meet regularly to discuss where you stand. You’ll keep each other from getting too comfortable with the partnership.
- Treat everyone equally. As much as you can, you should try to hold everyone to the same standards – that includes your employees, your partner, and yourself. “Sure, the benefits get nicer at the top, but you can’t have a caste system where certain people get away with whatever the heck they want, and other people are getting dumped on. It just doesn’t work,” explains Fleming.
Jean Chatzky, award-winning journalist and best-selling author, is the financial editor for NBC's "Today," a contributing editor for More magazine, and a columnist for The New York Daily News. She is the author of six books, including her newest, Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved. Check out Jean's blog at JeanChatzky.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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