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Here's How To Keep Your Business Relationships Drama-Free

Workin' Girl

I've got a girlfriend who stays in some female relationship drama. It's like, every six months, I can almost set my watch on receiving an email full of expletives or a phone call that starts off with a deep long sigh followed by a 15-minute rant about how she and a woman in her life 1) have had a colossal misunderstanding; 2) both feel totally taken for granted by one another; 3) were close but now are two steps away from being enemies or 4) were working together on something that will probably never see the light of day.


Before going deeper, let me just say that I don't care if it's a mom and daughter, two sisters, a couple of female roommates or two women who are besties—although there is nothing more beautiful and supernatural than two women who are in relationship with one another, in many ways, there's also nothing more challenging either. Women are strong. Women are intuitive. Women are creative. Let's be honest, we also feel things very deeply and that can oftentimes cause us to take things very personally. All of these things combined can sometimes cause the perfect storm when we choose to form a business alliance with another woman (or women).

Even though what I just said should be duly noted and sistah-girl partnerships certainly pose a few risks, that doesn't mean we shouldn't explore them (even if we've been burned before). We simply need to go into them with our eyes wide open, some boundaries set and with mutual understandings put into place. I believe that if all of us do the following six things, we can very much so shake some things up in the business world, along with some of the women we know, without it turning into a Lifetime movie or World War III.

Put a Written Plan into Place

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When one of my friends and I agree to meet up for dinner or a movie and one of us cancels at the last minute, while it's inconvenient, it's not earth-shattering or anything. All we're doing is trying to get some quality time in together. No (real) biggie. But when I was writing content for a Black female greeting card owner back in the day, although things were super-amicable between us, if I missed a deadline, it was an issue. It cost her money with her printer and sometimes affected sales. Problem is, sometimes things got lost in translation because while we would verbally discuss what needed to be done, since nothing was in writing, sometimes details would slip through the cracks.

The main takeaway I took from all of that is while with friends, it's fine to take them at their word, because a professional partnership usually has money on the line, it's always a good idea to get things down on paper.

I'll take it a step further and say that anyone who has a problem with some sort of written agreement or contract should be someone you're hesitant to do business with in the first place.

Putting plans in writing is beneficial in a lot of ways. It holds both people accountable. It prevents conversations from being taken out of context or misconstrued. It also helps you both remain focused and progressive when it comes to achieving your goals. Plus, should you decide to bring the partnership to a close at some point, everyone is crystal clear on what that means and requires. Getting things down in black and white avoids the messiness of grey areas.

Have Realistic Expectations—Personally and Professionally

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There's someone I had an unofficial partnership with once upon a time. Already, that "unofficial" part was an issue. SMH. Anyway, it basically consisted of being an unofficial model for her and her being an unofficial photographer for me. That meant when she needed a guinea pig or even just a subject for some photos, I made myself available. In exchange, when I needed to use some of the pics that I was in, I could. Usually, I paid very little for her photo time too.

But as my writing platform started to grow, the photographer began to feel some type of way if I used anyone but her. She felt like if an opportunity came up that would result in her getting a lot of exposure and recognition, it should be a given that she have it (like the cover of my first book, for instance). It's not that I didn't want her to shine (to this day, she's one of my faves); it's that we never discussed that she had sole or even first rights to work with me like that. And sometimes, either I or the publication wanted to try someone else.

What I learned the hard way was because she and I were super cool, that caused her to have "assumed expectations" and that resulted in quite a few bumps in the road. What that taught me, moving forward, is when someone offers to do something for me or if someone even suggests that we should collaborate, I ask what their expectations are out of the gate. What it also taught me is if their expectations don't gel well with my own, rather than grin and bear what they are saying or tell myself that we can deal with it later, that I should say upfront what will work for me and what won't. No apologies either.

Keep Certain Matters Totally Confidential

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I can't recall where I first heard what I'm about to say, but once I started to apply it to my life, my social world became a much safer place. The pearl of wisdom was this—"If before you get ready to tell someone something, you have to preface it with 'Don't say anything', that's probably not the individual that you should be telling it to."

In my personal and professional life, I can't tell you the last time I've had to start a sentence off in that way. One reason is because I am a lot more discerning with the information that I share than I used to be. Another reason is because I surround myself with individuals that I can trust. Even through rough patches, I don't have to worry about my business being used as ammo.

A lot of great partnerships between women get real ugly, real quick because intellectual property isn't valued, plans are shared without a mutual agreement that they can be and/or when partnerships come to a close, all of the details of why are divulged.

Just like it's important to get things in writing, it's equally (if not more) imperative that you both discuss how to handle information that is exchanged. Matter of fact, if that needs to be put in writing too, so be it.

Know the Difference Between Being Friends and Being Friendly

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If you don't retain anything else in here, please try and keep this at the forefront of your mind. Just because two people get along and have certain things in common, that doesn't automatically make them besties. It takes time, commitment and mutual desire for individuals to evolve into a true friendship. Not only that, but you don't have to make it your life's mission to befriend everyone in the world that you know. Trust me, if you take friendship seriously, you don't have the time or energy to pull off that kind of feat anyway.

Keeping what I just said in mind, there is also no law that says that just because you've got great chemistry with someone and you both decide to do business together that you also need to tell one another your deepest and darkest secrets and babysit each other's kids. I have some great energy with virtually all of the women I work with, but we're not friends so much as we are friendly with another. We treat one another with respect and we get along well, but our interaction is still mostly professional.

A lot of great partnerships have come to a screeching halt because one or both individuals assumed that just because they are a part of one another's professional world that they should also be a part of each other's personal life.

There's a reason why folks are leery about doing business with family members and friends. It can make the boundary lines very blurry. If you're trying to become your business partner's BFF, that's definitely something you should think about—first.

Revisit Things on a Regular Basis

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I share, as often as possible, that one of my favorite quotes is, "People change and forget to tell one another." I use it a lot in marriage life coaching sessions. It also applies to business partnerships. Unfortunately, there are a lot of partnerships that blow up, simply because one or both people involved expects the other to be just like they were in the beginning. Or, they think that whatever initial arrangement was made, it should remain that way until they decide they want to do something different.

There are a couple of people in my world who roll their eyes whenever I'm like, "Can we discuss our relationship for a sec?" To them, they're like, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" while I'm more along the lines of, "If we don't do maintenance on this thing, it will break down over time."

Everything requires maintenance.

So, no matter how great things may be going at the present moment when it comes to your business arrangement, it's healthy, wise and super proactive to hold a meeting, every three months or so, just to see if everything's cool, needs are still being met and there are no feelings that are being suppressed. This brings me to my final suggestion and point.

Be Open, Honest and Real. ALWAYS.

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If you ask just about any CEO about what they consider the keys are for a successful business relationship or partnership with someone, I'm willing to bet that their top five would be trust, mutual respect, communication, honesty and being as genuine as possible.

I've heard more than my fair share of horror stories about women who went into business together and then fell all the way out. A top cause of the drama was one or both people either not being total honest about their feelings or needs or one or both people were being passive aggressive in their communication approach.

A partnership only works effectively when both people are benefiting from it. The only way both parties can be sure that they are is if they are real with one another. Respectful, yes. But still very real.

I can't guarantee that if you do all of these things, that there won't be some rough waters from time to time. But what I will say is it will safeguard you from a lot of unnecessary foolishness. That way, you can both focus on making money and making moves. Instead of making full-on drama.

Featured image by Getty Images

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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