Navigating Conflict: What to Do When You Disagree with Your Business Partner

Disagreements with a business partner can bring operations to a standstill. What to do when you disagree with your business partner involves more than just talks—it requires strategy, mutual understanding, and sometimes, external intervention. In this article, learn the decisive steps to efficiently resolve partner disputes and maintain business momentum.

Key Takeaways

  • Business partnership disputes often arise from issues like miscommunication, divergent goals, and unequal workloads, and understanding these problems is key to resolving conflicts.
  • A collaborative resolution strategy should include clear communication, emotional intelligence, shared goals using the SMART criteria, structured negotiation techniques, and leveraging legal frameworks for structuring partnerships and resolving disputes.
  • When internal resolution efforts fail, seeking external assistance through mediators or legal counsel and preparing for tough decisions, such as buyouts or closures, are essential steps in the conflict resolution process.

business partner disagreement

Understanding the Roots of Partnership Disagreements

Disputes within business partnerships often stem from deeply rooted issues such as communication breakdowns, divergent goals, and unequal workloads. When these core problems aren’t adequately addressed, misunderstandings can escalate into larger conflicts. So, what happens when partners disagree? The key to navigating these choppy waters lies in understanding the roots of the disagreements.

Clear and effective communication is the lifeblood of a successful business relationship. When communication breaks down, partners may form divergent goals and expectations for the business. In addition, partners may become frustrated if one feels the other is not bearing an equal workload. Add to this a lack of transparency regarding financial needs and expectations, and you’ve got a recipe for conflict. Understanding these roots can help address the disagreements at their core and maintain a close relationship between partners.

Identifying the Core Issues

Identifying the root cause of a dispute is the first step towards resolution. It’s crucial to understand the underlying motivations of your business partner, be it financial incentives or power dynamics. A clear understanding of these motivations can help in managing effective collaboration and addressing the core reasons for disagreements.

Clear communication is especially crucial when considering exit strategies to ensure that both parties are adequately informed. Taking the time to understand your partner’s unique perspective, just as Jane Muir does with her clients, can be fundamental in resolving conflicts and building a strategy that addresses the dispute effectively.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is often overlooked but plays a vital role in conflict resolution. It involves the ability to recognize, understand, and manage one’s own emotions and those of others. The emotional component of key aspects of emotional intelligence that play a vital role during business conflicts include:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

With a focus on awareness and management of oneself and others.

By actively listening and respecting different viewpoints, partners can apply emotional intelligence to manage the emotional aspects of disputes. This helps maintain positive relationships through disagreements, ensuring they don’t escalate into larger conflicts that can threaten the survival of the business.

Crafting a Collaborative Resolution Strategy

Once the roots of the disagreements are understood, it’s time to craft a collaborative resolution strategy. This strategy should:

  • Assess the need for collaboration
  • Recruit the right partners
  • Develop a detailed action plan with clear goals and responsibilities
  • Identify individual and organizational skills needed
  • Harness each partner’s resources
  • Understand the funding required for collaborative ventures

A successful collaboration fosters trust from the onset and addresses past issues proactively. An environment that acknowledges diversity and promotes mutual respect contributes significantly to the success of a partnership. Recognizing and celebrating the achievements of a partnership can inspire continued success and innovation in future collaborations.

Establishing Common Goals

Establishing common goals is a crucial step in crafting a collaborative resolution strategy. It necessitates coming together to discuss, agree on, and document shared objectives, vision, and accountability structures. Partnership goals should be crafted using the SMART criteria, ensuring they are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Clear and consistent communication, coupled with polite behavior and positive actions, fosters trust and reinforces the shared end goal among partners. Continual monitoring and assessment of the partnership’s progress are essential to ensure that set goals are being met as intended. As the business’s goals or strategic direction shifts, partners should review and update the partnership agreement to reflect new objectives and reward contributions accordingly.

Structured Negotiation Techniques

Structured negotiation techniques can be a game-changer in managing conflicts. These techniques involve:

  • Setting guidelines and ground rules
  • Defining key aspects of meetings, including logistics and necessary participants
  • Preparing a reaction matrix
  • Understanding the dynamics of negotiation

By utilizing these techniques, one can remain composed and strategically ahead throughout the negotiation process.

Active listening, empathy, and assertiveness, along with techniques such as reframing, brainstorming, and compromising, are integral to managing conflicts and driving negotiations to a mutually satisfactory conclusion. Using the three-step behavioral technique of showing surprise, reflecting, and utilizing silence, alongside strategic concessions, can effectively sway the negotiation in one’s favor.

It’s crucial to concentrate on the problem without making personal attacks and to know your bottom line to maintain civility and professionalism in negotiation talks.

Leveraging Legal Frameworks for Clarity

While emotional intelligence and negotiation techniques can help manage conflicts, having a solid legal framework can provide the clarity needed to prevent disputes in the first place. A well-crafted management, partnership, or operating agreement lays the foundation for dispute resolution and future conflict prevention. It creates a legally binding framework that incorporates the partnership’s structure, decision-making processes, and partner dispute resolution mechanisms.

A well-drafted agreement should include clear provisions outlining the roles and responsibilities of each partner to avoid conflicts over management and delegation. It should dictate decision-making authority, whether through voting arrangements or designating responsible authorities, to prevent power struggles and decision-making impasses. Furthermore, it must clearly state how profits and losses are distributed among partners to forestall financial disagreements that frequently occur.

Understanding Your Operating Agreement

An operating agreement serves to clarify each partner’s role in the company, detailing who is responsible for specific tasks and delineating how decision-making is shared. This not only prevents conflicts related to workload but also ensures that partners contribute equally. In a similar vein, a shareholders agreement can provide additional structure and protection for the company’s stakeholders.

The operating agreement should specify the process for handling internal disputes, including mechanisms such as arbitration or litigation. It should also address the location for dispute resolution to avoid the inconvenience of distant travel for arbitration or court proceedings. Understanding these provisions is vital to navigating disagreements when they arise.

When to Update Agreements

As your business evolves, so should your operating agreement. It is best practice to review the partnership agreement periodically, such as annually, to ensure it remains relevant and effective in guiding the business operations and resolving disputes. This is especially important when there are significant changes in the business, such as growth, changes in management, or new investments.

Modifications to the operating agreement must be made to mirror any changes in the business or alterations in member relationships that could affect the resolution of disputes. Proactively identifying risk factors for the partnership allows for strategic management of potential risks, which may include:

  • Making necessary updates to agreements
  • Conducting regular reviews of the operating agreement to ensure it aligns with the current state of the business
  • Consulting with legal professionals to ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations
  • Communicating any changes to all members of the partnership to ensure transparency and understanding.

Ultimately, keeping your agreement up-to-date ensures that it continues to provide a clear framework for resolving disputes.

Seeking External Assistance

Sometimes, resolving disputes might require a fresh set of eyes. Introducing a neutral third party, such as a business mediator or legal counsel, is a key step in facilitating discussions between disagreeing business partners. External assistance can be particularly helpful when:

  • Internal attempts at resolution have failed
  • The dispute is complex and requires specialized knowledge
  • There is a power imbalance between the parties
  • Emotions are running high and communication has broken down

Bringing in a neutral third party can help create a safe and structured environment for productive discussions among family members and finding a resolution.

Private firms and nonprofit organizations, including the Better Business Bureau, provide mediation services aimed at helping local businesses resolve their disputes. While mediators do charge fees, these costs are often seen as a worthwhile investment to ensure the ongoing smooth operation of a business partnership.

Firms like J. Muir & Associates demonstrate their commitment to clients by being openly available for questions and concerns, and providing custom-tailored support through the legal process.

The Benefits of Mediation

Mediation offers numerous benefits as an alternative to traditional litigation. Some of these benefits include:

  • Quicker resolution
  • Less expensive
  • Allows for faster resolution, enabling parties to return to business and daily activities sooner
  • Parties have greater control over the outcome as they negotiate their settlement, which doesn’t involve a determination of fault.

The benefits of mediation include:

  • The confidentiality of mediation ensures that discussions and information shared during sessions remain private, with mediators destroying their notes at the end.
  • Experiencing mediation can equip the parties with a foundation for resolving future disputes in a cooperative forum.
  • Mediators who follow up after the mediation demonstrate commitment to resolution and can be effective even if the case does not settle on the assigned date.

Selecting the Right Mediator

Choosing the right mediator is as important as the mediation process itself. Here are some key factors to consider when selecting a mediator for business administration and partnership disputes:

  • Relevant expertise in the field
  • Experience in handling similar cases
  • Ability to adapt the mediation process to meet the specific needs of the case
  • Strong communication and negotiation skills
  • Impartiality and neutrality
  • Professionalism and ethical conduct

A mediator with these qualities can greatly contribute to effectively resolving conflicts in business and partnership disputes.

For example, Jane Muir is recognized for her thoroughness in case document review and ability to clarify complex legalities, reflective of her specialized legal strategy. Her approach demonstrates the importance of having a mediator who understands the intricacies of business disputes.

Preparing for Tough Decisions

In some instances, resolving disputes might involve making tough decisions such as a business partner buyout or even a business closure. Preparing for such decisions is a multifaceted process that includes defining buy and sell agreements, maintaining amicable negotiations, and seeking guidance from a business attorney. Agreeing on a fair buyout amount is foundational to the negotiation process, requiring an understanding of the partner’s share in the business, a formal business valuation, and the use of a partnership buyout formula.

Partners should explore different buyout funding options that may include:

  • self-funded agreements
  • financing rounds
  • business loans
  • introducing new investors or partners

The tax consequences of a buyout must not be overlooked as the IRS may consider it a taxable event, underlining the importance of consulting with a tax professional.

Considering All Options

When considering a buyout or closure, it’s important to explore all options and understand the implications of each. An effective exit strategy should account for the valuation of your share in the business and the financial consequences of leaving, whether through selling or dissolving the company. To determine a partner’s buyout price, one must calculate their equity stake based on the business’s valuation using methods such as the Adjusted Net Asset Method, Capitalization of Cash Flow Method, or Discounted Cash Flow Method.

A comprehensive partnership buyout agreement typically includes terms related to:

  • The buyout sum
  • Financing methods
  • Non-compete obligations
  • The handling of intellectual property rights

It’s crucial to have such an agreement in place to ensure everyone is on the same page, facilitating a fair and smooth transition.

When Court is the Last Resort

In extreme cases, when all other methods of dispute resolution have been exhausted, court action may be the last resort. Commercial litigation involves business contract disputes between two or more business entities and can be a complex and time-consuming process.

However, with the right legal representation, this process can be managed effectively. Firms like J. Muir & Associates have experience in providing general legal advice and representing clients effectively in commercial litigation. Having an experienced legal team on your side can make all the difference when navigating the complexities of the court system.

Maintaining Professionalism and Respect

Throughout all stages of conflict resolution, maintaining professionalism and respect is crucial. Trust, respect, and mutual benefit are the cornerstones of any business partnership, allowing for flexibility and openness to feedback. Clear communication, well-defined personal and business boundaries, and giving partners time to cool off post-conflict are key to maintaining the integrity of personal relationships during professional disputes.

Acknowledging and showing appreciation for each partner’s strengths and contributions, including the role of one partner and the other partner, underpins mutual respect and reinforces the partnership’s value. By maintaining professionalism and respect, you not only facilitate resolution but also ensure the longevity of your business partnership.

Tailoring Strategies to Your Business Needs

Every business and every dispute is unique. Therefore, conflict resolution strategies should be tailored to fit your specific business needs.J. Muir & Associates offers expertise in various legal areas, including:

  • Business law
  • Litigation
  • Contracts and agreements
  • Corporate law
  • Partnership disputes
  • Business formation
  • General counsel

The firm creates legal strategies tailored to the unique needs and goals of each client. With such a firm, you can navigate disputes with confidence and focus on what you do best – growing your successful enterprise.


In the course of doing business, disagreements are bound to arise. However, with the right techniques and strategies, these conflicts can be effectively managed and even turned into opportunities for growth and improvement. Whether it’s understanding the roots of disagreements, crafting a collaborative resolution strategy, leveraging legal frameworks, or seeking external assistance, the steps outlined in this post can guide you on your path to conflict resolution.

Remember, maintaining professionalism and respect throughout is crucial to preserving your business partnership. And when the going gets tough, remember that external help is available. Firms like J. Muir & Associates are dedicated to providing tailored legal strategies to help you navigate the complexities of business disputes and emerge stronger on the other side. Contact us today to see how we can help you resolve a business dispute with your partner.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you handle a toxic business partner?

Address the toxic behavior with your partner, establish a timeline for change, and seek mediation if necessary. If all else fails, consider taking legal action, but approach the situation calmly and seek professional guidance as needed.

What to do when you don’t like your business partner?

It’s important to take action when you don’t like your business partner. Consider implementing a contingency plan, hiring an arbiter, and having an open and transparent conversation with your partner to address the issue effectively.

Should a small business hire a lawyer?

Yes, hiring a lawyer knowledgeable in state and federal business law is recommended to protect the longevity and success of your small business.

What is the role of general counsel?

The role of a general counsel is to provide legal advice and strategic guidance to a business, ensure compliance with internal governance policies, and analyze multiple inputs and impacts when making decisions or taking action. This ensures that the company operates within the boundaries of the law and makes informed decisions.

Author Bio

Jane Muir

Jane Muir is a Shareholder and Managing Partner of J. Muir & Associates, a Miami business law firm she founded in 2018. With more than 13 years of experience in business, she is dedicated to representing clients in a wide range of legal areas, including business litigation, contracts, corporate formation, insolvency, nonprofits, partnership disputes, and other business law matters.

Jane received her Juris Doctor from the University of Miami School of Law and is a member of the Dade County Bar Association and Coral Gables Bar Association. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including being named among the “20 Under 40” in 2016 by Brickell Magazine. Super Lawyers named her a Rising Star from 2014–2019 and selected her for the Super Lawyers status.

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