Nobody can do everything in business alone. But romantic and business relationships are similar in that they don't always turn out the way you expect. The sooner you see clear signs of trouble, the sooner you can take action to protect your company.

Marcus Lemonis of The Profit says there are three big clues a business relationship is heading south.

1. Poor communication. This can mean that one partner isn't looping the other in, not just on critical operations and decisions, but on everyday choices, such as whether a project already has been assigned. It also can mean that whatever correspondence or talks do happen are disorganized and uncomfortable, or that one partner purposely is using language that makes the other feel like an outsider in some way. "I didn't know", "They didn't tell/check with me", "It wasn't clear" might become common phrases for you, and you might find that the lack of communication forces you into awkward apologies with employees, clients and shareholders.   

2. Poor collaboration. Without good communication, the ability to pull together efficiently on projects goes down the tubes. Because the partners no longer really trust each other, they take an "I have to oversee this myself" attitude. They try harder to assert their authority, and they become more insistent that the people around them see exactly what their personal contribution to the project or company is. They might even deliberately challenge the work or decisions the other partner is making, portraying themselves as more skilled, experienced or intelligent.

3. Not wanting to get input from each other. In a good business relationship, each partner knows that the other individual can add something to whatever work is happening, and they value each other's ideas and thoughts. But as the situation sours, they start to see the second line of input as merely a monkey wrench thrown into their own "perfect" plans. Rather than communicate well and collaborate, they trust their own intuition and avoid their partner's "interference".

The end result of all three of the above problems is a general slowdown in work. As others see the breakdown, morale can dip, too, and that can compound performance problems. In the worst instances, the best choice is to cut your losses and end the relationship. But this is a last resort, and in many cases, you can save the relationship. As soon as you smell something rotten,

  • Be upfront about the issue. Rather than make accusations, simply say you feel some tension. Ask what their perception is and make it clear that you want to build as much trust as you can. Take responsibility if you truly have contributed to the conflict.
  • Check your means of accountability. Make sure there are others who can observe and make recommendations. Processes should include a system of checks and balances, and they should make it harder to engage in divisive behaviors.
  • Review the positive. The odds are, you picked your partner for a reason. Give them deserved praise so they know you really see their potential and contribution.
  • Eliminate imbalances. You both should feel like you're getting what you signed up for, and expectations and benefits both should be clear. Move past initial excitement and don't sugarcoat what's likely ahead. Promise only what you realistically can do or provide, and make a battle plan together to attack whatever deficiencies you both have.

Ultimately, it all boils down to respect and transparency. If you can keep things relatively normal for your employees as you fight for these foundational elements, the prospects for the relationship--and the future of your business--can stay bright.

Published on: Jan 4, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.