A few years ago I was involved in a nasty ending to a business partnership. The people involved were threatening all sorts of legal action against me and my company, and because it was my first such dispute I was pretty stressed! However, many more such situations came along over the years, and I learned a lot as I gained more experience. Here are three things I have learned about ending business partnerships.
You are in charge of your communication parameters. Just because someone says “You must get back to me by the end of the week” doesn’t mean you have to do it. Unless there is a strong reason for doing so (legal deadlines, etc), there is usually no reason for you to comply with the demands of someone you are disputing with. That doesn’t mean you purposefully antagonize someone by not answering, but neither should you let them intimidate you by demanding how or when you communicate. Sometimes the best thing for you to do is to wait on communication and allow any emotions to dissipate, anyway. You don't ever want to communicate something you'll later regret.
Nasty emails don’t change a thing. Sometimes we sit down during a dispute and vent our spleens in an unpleasant email. Do we actually expect someone to read such an email and change their behavior? The best way to communicate during a dispute is face to face, but if circumstances dictate that you must communicate through email, then just stick to the facts and don’t insult or accuse. The goal in any dispute is to come to an amicable agreement, and bad emails don’t help accomplish this.
Begin with the end in mind. When you create a business partnership, pleasant emotions can run high and it might be hard to envision the partnership ever ending. But, business partnerships are temporary by design and all of them come to an end at some point. Defining how a partnership will end is just as important (some say more important) than defining how it begins. No one wants a bad ending, so even it if you and your business partners are a match made in heaven, define the ending at the beginning.
Practicing these three principles will help you avoid the unpleasantness of a bad ending to a business partnership.
Originally written: May 1, 2017