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.