Copreneurs: How Do You Handle Conflict in Front of Employees?

by Pamela on February 7, 2012

Think Your Disagreements Don’t Affect Your Employees? Guess Again.

So, you have an idea for a business and think it would be great to join forces with your partner? After all, you have a happy home life, you get along great, and you’d like to spend more time together, so wouldn’t it stand to reason that you’d make good business partners?

Ummm, sometimes yes, and sometimes no.

While there are many copreneurs, or couplepreneurs as they’re also called, who easily translate a happy marriage into a happy business relationship, others have a bumpier ride as they learn to navigate their new roles.

Your marriage and your business are two different ballgames, so to speak. The success of one doesn’t guarantee the success of the other. You can choose to RUN them in a similar fashion, however. You can take the things that work in your personal life and apply them to your business relationship. There are many areas of work and home that mirror each other, and it’s helpful to take notice of the instances where they correlate.

No relationship is without conflict. It’s how you handle it that counts. If you and your partner are running a business together, and you’re having trouble dealing with conflict, you’re not alone.

One of the common reasons that copreneurs have difficulty managing conflict at work is their failure to plan and set rules. I recommend mapping out a detailed ‘blueprint‘ of your roles and responsibilities. Include some non-negotiable rules. The best time to make the rules is before you hire employees. Of course things will come up as you go, but the more things you work out before there’s a conflict, the more likely you’ll be to keep emotions at bay.

In prior articles, I’ve mentioned that roles need to be clearly defined. Being clear about your roles is a good way to keep some sort of individuality and avoid undermining each other. I work with one couple who appeared to have this all sorted out, but now they’re stepping in and out of each other’s roles and the lines are becoming fuzzy. This practice is causing conflict and confusion among their employees.

As far as non-negotiable rules go, here’s one that I implore you to enact: Never argue in front of your team. Recently I received a comment on an article from a woman named Chris who runs a business with her husband. She said that she and her husband have been disagreeing a lot and they’ve been doing it in front of their employees. This is a HUGE ‘no-no’ (I say, wagging my finger.) Never argue in front of your team. In Chris’s case, one of her best employees is thinking of quitting because the conflict makes her very uncomfortable.

The fact that she’s thinking of quitting isn’t really surprising. The ‘boss’ is the authority figure and we all want to feel that our boss has his/her act together. We also want to feel that they deserve our respect. When you have two bosses and they argue, it hearkens back to childhood. How did you feel when your parents fought? Insecure and uncertain? Apply that analogy to your employees. If you and your partner are arguing openly in the office, what message does that send? I’ll tell you right now that you’re injecting the insecurity and uncertainty (as if you were the parents) and it will poison your staff.

Continuing with the parent analogy, I would also suggest you make sure that your employees clearly understand your individual roles so that they can’t pit you against each other until they get the answer they’re looking for. Many years ago, in my marketing days, I answered to 2 bosses- one who would order me to spend, spend, spend on events and other marketing expenditures and one who would balk at spending. It was unclear to me who should make marketing decisions, so I didn’t really know who to ask. Guess who I went to each time I wanted to spend money? These two men ‘taught’ me how to behave. In order to get my job done, I had to spend money, so I got my approval from the one who would give it and they had to “fight it out.” And they did. All the time. The company folded and they no longer speak. Children often do this because they want what they want, and they’ll always go to the parent who will say yes. Often, this leads to discord between mother and father, and if it becomes a frequent occurrence, it can lead to the demise of your relationship.

Can you see how your personal relationship and work relationship can mirror each other?

How do you and your partner handle disagreements in the workplace? What are some of your biggest areas of conflict?

I’d love to hear from you.

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