How Do I Deal With an Underperforming Partner?

Every single partnership goes through difficult seasons.  If you’re frustrated with your partner, consider each of these keys to building an effective partnership:

  1. Understand the life stages of every partnership
  2. Ask “What am I contributing to the problem?”
  3. Focus on what you can control
  4. Define your boundaries
  5. Focus on honest communication

Understand the life stages of every partnership

Every partnership goes through the same stages.  They are:

  1. Glee

Every partnership starts out happily.  Everyone sees a bright future ahead.

  1. Fee

At some point, we realize the imperfections of the people we’re partnered with and become frustrated.  Then we start to think mainly about money.  This compensation isn’t fair!  They are spending too much! I work too hard for what I’m paid!

  1. Me

If you continue to obsess about the money, eventually it becomes all about you.  That’s all you can think about.  You waste your time focusing on the parts of your partner that drive you crazy.  Meanwhile your own business interests suffer.  From here you either dissolve the partnership or move to a better stage.

  1. See

This is where you accept your partner for who they are.  You recognize that you aren’t perfect either and focus on each of your strengths so that everyone can improve.  This is all about intentional communication.

  1. We

Now you’re working together with each person doing their best.  You’re on your way to a successful partner relationship.

Greg Nathan writes about this in “Profitable Partnerships.”  He focuses on franchisee relations, but they apply to all partnerships.  Read more about it here: 

Ask “What am I contributing to the problem?”

I can assure you that you are part of the problem.  Very rarely is one person 100% guilty and the other 100% innocent.  Write down a list of ways that you are failing your partner.  Things that you could do better to enhance the partnership.

Ask yourself what percentage of the breakdown of the relationship you own.  Do you own 10%?  50%?  80%?  Just remember that it’s very rare for one party to own 0%.

Focus on what you can control

What are you in control of in any partnership?  Whether it’s a marriage or a business arrangement, you can only control one factor.  You.  No one can control another adult.  No one can make an adult do something they really don’t want to do.

The sooner you realize and embrace this fact the happier you’ll be.

Assert your boundaries

You can’t control the behavior of another person, but you can control are your own boundaries.

Boundaries are a defensive tool that help you protect yourself from difficult people.  You could say, for instance, “If you choose to come to a meeting and you aren’t sober, I will get up and leave.”  You can’t control the person, but you can control yourself.

Or again, “If you choose to engage in abusive language to me, I’ll hang up the phone and wait until you’re ready to speak respectfully.”

Read more about setting boundaries in Forbes here:

Focus on honest communication

Relationships break down overwhelmingly due to one cause:  lack of communication.  Here’s how they spiral out of control:

  1. Communication slows or stops: people get busy. People don’t like each other.  For whatever reason, there’s no more talking
  2. In the absence of communication, trust erodes: We are quick to make unfair assumptions about each other, and when we aren’t talking, we make negative assumptions almost exclusively
  3. When trust is gone, the relationship is all but over

So, if you’re partnership seems unhealthy, don’t slow down communication; instead double it.  Decide to get together intentionally every day or week and talk over your issues together.

When you’re talking don’t accuse the other person.  Instead, say, “This is how this makes me feel.”

“When you overspend our budget, it makes me feel disrespected.”  Invite the other person to talk about how they feel.  No one can argue with how you feel.  They make disagree or think your feelings are unwarranted, but you feel how you feel.  It’s a great communication tool.

In summary:

If you’re unhappy in your partnership,

  1. Understand the life stages of every partnership
  2. Ask “What am I contributing to the problem?”
  3. Focus on what you can control
  4. Define your boundaries
  5. Focus on honest communication

Additional resources

Thanks for reading this article on “How do I deal with an underperforming partner.”  Below are additional resources from Getting People Right, the global provider of online human resources and leadership tools:

Four questions to use to assess the effectiveness of your team

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