How to Deal with Difficult Business Partners

All successful companies have one thing in common. On average, they carry more assets than they do liabilities. These companies are also quick to take note when something that was once an asset now has become a liability. They either try to make this new liability an asset again or they swiftly remove it from the company. This process may sound easy enough unless the liability you are thinking of is your relationship with your business partner.

Business partners, whether you realize it or not, are engaged in a kind of professional marriage. Like a marriage, you come together in the beginning with a common goal of building toward a shared vision. This may have worked for a while, but now one or both of you have changed just enough to no longer fit so perfectly with the other anymore. Who’s the problem? Maybe you’re both ok, but you’re just no longer ok together.

Studies show that many people running companies tend to be type “A” personalities. Chances may be that you and your partner have just realized that you’re both dominant personality types. The underlying cause of the “dis-ease” is that maybe you’re both too strong willed with not enough willingness to accommodate the other.

Our philosophy here at The Goldhill Group isn’t necessarily that opposites attract and fit well together either. We believe that it’s more about complements coming together that are really more compatible in the long run. We believe that there’s still a chance that you can get through to you difficult business partner and eliminate the dis-ease that has become your relationship.

To do this, it’s important that we get you on a strong business partnership detoxification program. It’s important that we focus on getting rid of all the emotions considered to be toxic to your partnership and that alone eliminates a lot of the dis-ease you’ve come to know. Emotions like anger, resentment, jealousy, suspicion and bitterness are all highly toxic emotions.

By managing your perceptions and increasing your skills to deal with your difficult partner, we can eliminate these self-defeating emotions. Here are some steps on how to do that.

1. Focus on effective communication and not necessarily more communication. You can communicate all day long with your partner, but if it’s not effective then you’re getting nowhere. Learn effective communication techniques. The key is to listen more and speak moderately and in a well thought out manner.

2) Neutralize your perception of them. Contrast is the most amazing thing for perception sometimes. Get outside of your workplace environment and shift your focus of conversation to something outside of your work.

3) Shower them with praise. The quickest way to a business partner’s heart just may be through their ego. Validate them for their contributions and make sure they know you see their value to your company. Send them appreciation emails. Three lines are about all it takes to let someone know you recognize what they did for the company.

4) Communicate trust. The less trust you have the more friction you’re going to build in your partnership. Show them ways that they can trust you. Find ways to build your trust in them. Show them regularly that you do trust them.

5) Consider the fact that maybe it’s you that’s become hard to get along with. Sometimes by trying to fix the other person we’re going about things backwards. Try fixing yourself and you may end up fixing your partner as a result.

6) Eliminate the “you” vs. “them” mentality. Train yourself to think and talk always in terms of “us” and “we” when speaking to your partner. They’ll be quick to pick up on it.

7) Show them that you’re not greedy. You’re working to build the same money pile for most part anyway. Send them a client that you could have taken for yourself. Do anything to demonstrate your willingness to share.

8) Show them that you have their back. People resist you and put up walls out of fear of losing something. Maybe it’s their pride. Maybe it’s money. Let them see you looking out for them and not out to get something from them.

9) Ask their opinion on a variety of decision making topics. Follow their opinion with, “I think you’re making a good point.”

10) Let them shine as well. Don’t take every opportunity to be the spokesperson for your team. On that next speaking opportunity, let them do it or at least ask them if they would like to. Offer to let them write that article for that next company newsletter.

Most people act in a problematic or difficult manner because they have a source or multiple sources of agitation. Find out what those agitations may be for your difficult business partner. Once you know what it is, maybe then you can work to alleviate their pain.

If you’ve tried all of this and nothing works, then maybe it’s time to rid yourself of this emotional liability. Good luck in making that determination.

Contact us if you need help. Our coaching has proven effective with family-owned businesses and partnerships. And, we offer a “Business Breakthrough Planning Session” complimentary to determine if coaching is right for you and your business.


Jonathan Goldhill, CEO/Head Coach of The Goldhill Group, provides coaching for growing companies.  Jonathan is a growth consultant, business owner, business coach, sales coach and marketing coach based in Los Angeles, CA that has been guiding mostly local, small, family-owned, privately-held and mid-market business owners, managers and sales professionals build better businesses since 1987. He can be reached at (818) 716-8826 or emailed at

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Have a question for Jonathan?

Kristina johnson
23rd July 2014 10:52pm
I recently started working in a friend salon as a manager but due to the fact that he has a drinking problem he asked me to be partner. I declined because I did notwant to partner in a shop named after because to me it's his no matter what. After a month or so and a lot of my money going into his business I decided to revisit the partnership idea and we decided to do so. At first it was that everyone had to come to me, my ideas were all important and great. Recently since he's not ... Read More

Jonathan Goldhill
24th July 2014 1:58pm
Kristina, This is an interesting commentary on how alcoholism or any other mental illness can wreak havoc on a business relationship. I have recently written a series of blog posts on partnerships that I think you will find helpful. They are on my site under Blog at Let me know if you need more help!

michelle b
30th July 2014 6:11pm
My husbands business partners for his roofing company. The four of work there, my husband Is a new partner to the company and presidents wife had job duties of ar/ap which they used QuickBooks and it was done entirely wrong, she also did the payroll & all other taxes that were also do incorrectly. She answered the phones and took the leads but wasn't very detailed and for example only got a firts name and a phone number (no reason for the call, ect.). They are a Corporation and first ... Read More

Jonathan Goldhill
31st July 2014 4:55pm
Hi Michelle B,

Sounds like there's a lot of issues to sort out. Job descriptions, partnership responsibilities, organizational structure, etc. A family or partnership business needs to be organized functionally and run like a real business. Call me if you need more specific help.

23rd September 2014 3:21pm
me and my partner have build up this company for the past 2 years 7months now. I started up the idea when we were coworkers, I've had more experience in the business before he came and I offered him to work for me which he rejected until the company that we work for calling for out of business. so finally he offer to open the similar business with he owned 70% and I'm 30% just because he's white and I'm the Asian. long story short, we started the business I deal with finding ... Read More

16th November 2014 9:07am
I am one of one four persons in a newly established partnership, the business entails a lot of outdoor activity, meeting with suppliers, meeting with clients, distribution, production etc. I am currently investing most time in the business whilst the others are working in their full time jobs. Our initial either had been to share profits equally which i believe does not make a lot of sense, seeing that time is an investment, your advise is needed

25th February 2015 3:08am
Hi jonathan. I had a small business some time back and recently i added a partner to it. However i noticed she is very impulsive, gets defensive quickly and ego problem. On the other side she is a good asset too. She is also rude at times. Please advice i want to have a good n no stress relationship.

17th May 2015 5:58am
we run a business with my spouse and our major client is a company that her brother works for. my problem is that she is so possessive in terms of decision making and always wants to be in control even when i diplomatically gets a customer she wont trust that move until she confirms what i have told her from the customer or his associates. her siblings equally feel its her company even when its registered in my name and i paid for the registration.
Jonathan Goldhill
18th May 2015 3:11pm
Kriss, Registration of the company may give you the intellectual ownership of the brand, website, etc., but it doesn't give you the ownership of the business. That would be determined by your incorporation papers, articles, bylaws, etc. unless it's a sole proprietorship and then you both own it equally. The problem is likely that your roles are not clearly defined or delineated. Getting help from a professional, like myself, to determine the roles, responsibilities, reporting ... Read More

louise smith
7th August 2015 8:30pm
I'm the co-owner of a small business. During the school year I teach full time and come to the business in the afternoon, Over the summer I work full time at the business. My partner and I finally came to an agreement this year that we each take a weeks vacation. I prefer not to be contacted while I'm on vacation. My business partner feels this is wrong. Before leaving I conceded to be contacted if there was an emergency. My partner said she probably wouldn't contact me but just ... Read More

Jonathan Goldhill
10th August 2015 5:24pm
Hi Louise, You are not wrong for wanting to have uninterrupted time while away from the business. If you are able to achieve this during the school day then I see little reason why this can't be accomplished during the day while you are away. You and your partner should develop the answers to frequently asked questions (interruptions) before you leave, and systems need to be put in place to address how to solve/answer common and uncommon problems. Each partner needs to to feel and be ... Read More

8th September 2015 11:23pm
Ok so we got into this partnership with an already set up place. We (my husband and I) got our ideas together and invested a little (cash) and a lot of our time and our skills together to the table. We had no agreement signed (as we did not want to go all out), however like I said earlier we did invest about 20%. Now, after my spouse and I got involved, the place started doing very well. Ofcourse they loved the involvement but at the same time, the partner's wife who manages all the ... Read More

Bryan Yco
11th January 2016 1:27pm
I work on a network marketing business. Everything was going smoothly in our company when suddenly the corporate decided to change the compensation plan. This resulted into factions within the organization. They blamed the system we were implementing as associates that is why their paychecks were getting smaller. It is at this time that we learned that the growth of these partners who were trying to detach from our leadership were involved with unethical practices. Now they have implemented a ... Read More
Jonathan Goldhill
12th January 2016 1:42pm
This is a common occurrence with network marketing companies. I cannot advise you on this, but I wish you luck.

Leslie Blowers
29th May 2016 1:09pm
I'm starting a corporation with my best friend of 42 years. Yikes! I can't believe it's been that long. I want to get off on the right foot. She definitely has the more dominate personality and is a talker. I sometime feel like I'm being thrown under the bus when she talks to others. I then question how she may be truly interpreting my actions or comments. I am realizing that I might be passive aggressive with our relationship because of these interactions. This is a highly ... Read More

Trent Harrison
11th December 2016 6:06pm
Hi there, I have a business partner that is 75% share holder and is always domineering. He has no experience in this field and does not have any business skill or experience. I have ran our business for many years but he is now trying to be overpowering. I have since decided that I best move on and sell my share in which he did not take this decision likely where he became abusive and threatening. Since then I don't talk to him. Having a simple phone conversation is beyond now and I wanted ... Read More

Lynda Wright
4th April 2017 1:18am
Hello My problem may well be me, but it's causing an issue. We put an exhibition together. I did other work to bring money in, but in my own time & weekends and eve on our marketing too. My business partner is not an after hours person. We decided to do show again plus initiatives to give us both a salary. All fine till large cheque arrives for my partner - referral money, second year in, for intro she previously made. Then she gets call from NHS procurement person to work on a comms ... Read More

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