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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