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Business Unplugged™
This blog features Carol Roth's tough love on business and entrepreneurship, as well as insights from Carol's community of contributors.

What Bickering Couples and Business Partners Have in Common

Written By: Rich Gallagher | 7 Comments

Are you one of those lucky small businesses with partners? Let me guess, you all see eye to eye most of the time, right? Wrong. If you are like most small business partnerships I know, you probably have feuds where it sometimes seems like the blood is ankle deep.

I think I know why that is. Small businesses often attract people who are very smart, very action-oriented, believe they are right most of the time, and don’t like being told what to do. In other words, mavericks. And when two mavericks get into a horse fight, look out!

So, how do you fix this? When I was studying to become a marriage and family therapist, doing my clinical internship at a large hospital, I discovered something amazing: whenever I did a workplace intervention with a dysfunctional team, it was very similar to working with couples and families in conflict. Let me break down some of the specifics for you:

1. The more you “get,” the more you get. There is really only one way to get other people to listen to you and most of us never do it – “get” the other person’s position first. “Getting” someone doesn’t mean agreeing with them. It means being able to articulate the other person’s position well enough that his or her head is vigorously nodding up and down.

Here is a simple trick: Start your sentence with, “Well, of course …” and the right words will usually follow. For example, “Well, of course you want to spend half our revenues on spiffy new office furniture; you are trying to improve people’s morale.” 

2. Language is everything. Couples often learn the hard way what I call “the other golden rule”: you can never successfully criticize anyone for anything. Ever. So, if you are trying to think of ways to convince your partners that their ideas are stupid, save your carfare. Instead, focus on addressing everyone’s underlying agenda. So, instead of saying “Your ideas will bust our budget,” try, “I’m wondering if we could try something similar that’s more in step with our revenues. Here are some thoughts.”

3. Everyone has to score a win. Let’s be honest. You think your way is the only right way. And it’s OK to feel strongly about it and say so. But at the end of the day, you can only get buy-in when you can find a way for everyone to benefit at some level – especially when your partners are as competitive as you are.

Whether I am sitting across the couch from Harvey and Velma or a workplace team, my role is pretty much the same: hear everyone’s position, see the good in each party, and then find ways to engage them into co-creating solutions that everyone can live with. When you do this well, it is often magical to watch power struggles, backbiting, and conflict fade away. Learn to think like a family therapist yourself and the impact on your business (and personal) relationships is often dramatic.

I would love to hear your stories about business partnerships – good and bad. Please share in the comments below.

Article written by
Rich Gallagher is a former customer service executive and practicing therapist who heads the Point of Contact Group. His books include two #1 customer service bestsellers, “What to Say to a Porcupine” and ”The Customer Service Survival Kit: What to Say to Defuse Your Worst Customer Situations,” both released by AMACOM. He has taught over 30,000 people what to say in their worst customer and workplace situations.
  • Interesting post. I also have an business partner that’s also my wife 🙂 And i have to say that it nice to have someone in the company that I can trust no matter what!

  • PointA_PointB

    @wesley koelewijn True. But it can also lead to its own types of problems. I have heard Carol talk about this topic since she worked with her husband at one point. What do you say, gallagherPOC ?

  • PointA_PointB

    @wesley koelewijn True. But it can also lead to its own types of problems. I have heard Carol talk about this topic since she worked with her husband at one point. What do you say, gallagherPOC ?

  • RichGallagher

    @PointA_PointB  @wesley koelewijn  gallagherPOC Totally varies with the couple. I’ve even heard of people divorcing and *then* starting a business together! Good for you Wesley that it’s working well. My wife’s parents ran a family business productively as well. As for me? I joke about getting to kiss the vice-president every morning, but in reality I pretty much run the show (and she is retired and gets to chuckle at me).

  • The5Pillars

    Interesting article on the cultural clash between business partners and couples. How much worse is it when couples are in business together? As someone who works with many couples in business, I actually wrote a book on it: “Married to the Business- Honey I love you but our business sucks” more information at

  • My husband is not my business partner, but my sister (his sister-in-law) is his administrative assistant.  This has worked great for everyone.  There is immense trust between the two of them, particularly because they are family.  And flexibility on both of their parts comes easy.  For me, I can call my sister to gently remind my husband to “buy me a birthday card”! (all in good humor)

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