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What To Think About When Your Business is Breaking Up

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It is time to go. Leave the business. Exit your partnership. Whether you simply don’t have the heart for the products and services your company offers, the conflict or frustration amidst your partners, or even if you are simply seeing other opportunities out there in the world, it’s time to go. Regardless of why you want to leave, you are getting ready to approach your partners and say those three little words – I am out. There will be lots to talk about with your partners – division of the company, potential buy-outs, starting competing businesses, etc. Notwithstanding these, there are three things from a negotiation and relationship perspective that you should also be thinking about that may guide your next steps and approach:

What are the interests?

The first thing to keep in mind is to get curious. It is easy, in these situations, to jump into a judger mindset – where you are casting judgements on everything others say. People will typically start by expressing their positions (i.e. I want this, you want that, etc.) and if we come into the conversations in that judger mindset, we will typically assume that the other person is trying to get a bigger piece of the pie than they should be entitled to, or worse yet, we end up getting defensive and frustrated. That is where it pays to get curious. Asking questions of your partners will assist you in finding out the interests that are behind the positions. By getting curious, and asking those questions, you will not only uncover some of their interests, but you’ll also potentially stumble across some shared interests that you all share (i.e. a sense of security, feeling acknowledged for the work that you have done, being a valued contributor, etc.). Searching for shared values will assist everyone to be able to reach a deal that will benefit everyone. Try asking some questions such as: What is it about X that is important to you? What value do you feel you bring to the company? What value do you feel that I have brought into the company? If you were in my position, what would you be looking for? How do we want our relationship to look like in the future? Is there a way that we can have these negotiations that would benefit us and our customers? What do you need from these conversations? What do you specifically need from me to make these conversations go smoothly?

Your Hill to Die On

Reflecting on your “hill to die on” will also be important to these conversations. In other words, you need to know your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) so that you can make informed decisions through your conversations. Often it will be important to consult with a lawyer to ensure that you are aware of your rights and responsibilities. This does not mean that you need to go after your partners for everything that should be legally yours, rather it will allow you to make an informed decision about what you are potentially giving up and what is so important to you that you are not willing to give up. Knowing your BATNA is not just enough though, you should also know the interests behind your position. For example, knowing that you are legally entitled to 45% royalties of all digital resources you created is important, however, you should also be able to explain it in a way that they can hear why it is important to you as well. For example, these royalties are rarely about money. Often, they are about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into those products and I won’t be able to build them into my future business.

Future Relationships

Regardless of what anyone says, business is never just business – especially when it comes to partnerships. Even if there will be no future relationship with your partners you will likely still cross paths with them again. Think about it this way, you and your partners started the business likely because of your shared interests and/or opportunities. This means that even if your partnership has deteriorated you will still see you partners from time to time at local and industry events. Another way to think about this is like a marriage. When a couple goes through a divorce, they often think they will no longer have to deal with the other person. However, they are often still tied together (for better or worse) because of their kids, friends, social/business circles, shared interests, etc. Having the conversation with your partners about what these future interactions will look like is often key for individuals so that those events/occasions can be less awkward, but also to preserve everyone’s reputation. Similarly, exploring with your partners what you are agreeing to tell others outside of the negotiation room will aid in preserving everyone’s reputation. Not only do these conversations reduce the potential anxiety of these encounters, but also gives your customers/clients, shared social and business network, and your kids and family an example to go by in the future when they face something difficult.

Jason Dykstra

Jason is in the business of helping organizations move from conflict situations to creative solutions. He has particular skills in communication systems, organizational culture and leadership development.

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