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How business and personal relationships should be treated differently

(ENTREPRENEUR) A personal relationship and business relationship typically don’t mix, but even if they do, they shouldn’t be approached the same way.

Four people together representing coworker relationships, not family.

Are you in a relationship?

When you’re a business owner who is also involved in a personal relationship, you must distinguish between the two. They’re simply not the same, and you can’t treat them as if they are.

Much like with personal relationships, there can be a lot of confusion and miscommunications with your business relationships. Why? Because you’re so involved with your business, so close to it, that it can be damn near impossible to look at it objectively. And when you communicate based on emotion and subjectivity, your business can suffer.

This is why communication with those who aren’t too close to be objective is key. You need to learn how to communicate with people before bringing them into work together. This is where personal and business relationships become exceptionally important. You may like someone on a personal level, but not be great business partners because you’re too personal and too connected to make unbiased decisions.

It’s easy to see potential in someone else or a new business venture and get so excited by that potential that you build an entire reality around that perceived potential. This can be especially dangerous when you do it with potential business partners.

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In a personal relationship, we somewhat mold our partner into what we want them to be and they do the same with us. But you get in trouble in business when you try to do the same thing with business partners or relationships. You can’t force a business relationship any more than you can force a personal one. They’re both recipes for disaster.

To successfully manage your business relationships, you need to first understand your potential partners. What do they want and need from you? Sometimes this comes up organically, but other times, people are completely clueless on where to start. And that’s okay. Work alongside your potential business partner to figure this out before going into business together.

Should I go into business with a personal partner?

Whether you want to go into business with your personal or romantic partner is totally up to you. But remember, a personal relationship and business relationship are different and you need to treat them differently. What are your dynamics? Do you work well together? Really get to know your partner at the business level to decide what makes the most sense for you (and them). Ask yourself these questions to get started:

  • Are you going into business together to strengthen a struggling personal relationship?
  • Are you partnering because your partner has relevant skills for the work you’re doing?
  • Have you ever worked with them before? Do you understand how they work?
  • Have you set clear boundaries and expectations around business?
  • Have you discussed how you’ll separate your business and personal relationship?
  • Have you analyzed the worst-case scenario of going your separate ways when there’s money, reputations, and jobs on the line?
  • Have you established how you’ll handle conflict?
  • Have you discussed how you’ll foster open communication regarding business matters?
  • Have you talked with anyone else who understands your dynamic with your partner?
  • Have you analyzed and accepted how your relationship might change or evolve?

Most of us naturally avoid conflict, so we let others dictate the terms of our relationship. We let things get out of control, allowing the other person to tell us what to do, how we should be, and so on. Yikes! In this kind of relationship—business or personal—we give up any agency we may have and feel like a puppet. This is not a healthy dynamic for any kind of relationship, but especially not with your business. By answering the question above, you can hopefully mitigate this with any potential business partner.

Take notes and make a decision

We are constantly communicating—some of us overtly, and some less so. Does your business partner outwardly complain, or do they silently suffer? Note these signals and find a place and time to have an open discussion. You don’t want to ambush them, but make them feel heard and understood instead. This is the foundation of your relationship.

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Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out, despite your best efforts. But how do you know? When you’re no longer on the same journey, your goals don’t align, and your visions are vastly different, close the door. That doesn’t mean your personal relationship needs to end, just that you should dissolve your business relationship.

Treat each day like a business decision

Every day you’re in a business relationship with someone is a day you choose to be in that relationship. It isn’t just something that happens haphazardly. So, when you get into a business relationship with someone, be intentional about it and treat it with the same care you do with every other business decision.

If your prospective business partners aren’t already talking about developing deep personal relationships with those they’re working with, try to get them to talk about it. If they don’t want the same relationship as you, it’s not worth getting into business with them.

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Hannah-Jaye has been in the business of helping people achieve their goals for over 14 years. In her earlier years, she was described as a radical activist. After realizing that there was more to a cause than just marching in the streets, she became a professional organizing and movement-building strategist. These skills have translated well in her private sector work in business strategy and marketing development across wildly diverse niches.

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