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IN SPITE OF OUR COMPLAINTS, Part I

By Chuck Violand

October 13, 2014

On several occasions over the years, I’ve written about making excuses and not taking responsibility for our own actions. A recent conversation I had with a business owner again elevated this topic to being worthy of attention.

The owner was experiencing difficulty with his business partner. He spent a great deal of time telling me about all his partner’s shortcomings: how he wasn’t interested in embracing new technology, how he didn’t shoulder his share of the financial risk of the company, and how he didn’t actively participate in managing the employees. Instead, he only did the work he had been doing for years and was comfortable with.

As the conversation progressed, I offered suggestions on how he might resolve some of the issues. But it seemed that with every suggestion I made, he had a ready argument about why it wouldn’t work in his situation. After a while, I came to the conclusion that arguing with this owner was like mud wrestling with a pig—he wasn’t looking for answers. He was more interested in wallowing in his misery.

We’ve all seen similar scenarios play out in our businesses and in our personal lives. Complaining about our situations rather than acting to change them can allow us to avoid the tough decisions we really don’t want to make in spite of all our complaining.

With rare exception, anyone who’s ever had a business partner has felt a sense of inequity at some point and this owner was no different. Was the real issue what he said it was, or did it have more to do with the two of them no longer sharing a common vision for the future of the company or maybe not even wanting to be partners anymore?

Our personal or business values, or the things we want to achieve with our businesses, can change. Or sometimes partners grow professionally at different rates. Addressing these issues head-on can be extremely difficult, emotionally-charged conversations. Ones we usually work hard to avoid. Often, it’s just easier to kick these conversations down the road until they’re unavoidable, or we bury them under a pile of minor irritations and a corresponding list of complaints.

It’s even easier to fall into this trap of avoidance when we have family members involved in our businesses—whether or not they’re partners. The boundaries between loving someone and holding them accountable on the job can easily become blurred and emotional when personal feelings are involved. Or as Dr. Morris Shechtman writes in Working Without a Net, we confuse caring for someone with taking care of them. Rather than caring enough to discuss how we’re feeling or to set job expectations and hold them accountable, we avoid the conversation, continue to pay them, and then let our frustrations cloud the relationship.

Situations like these have to do with the “soft side” of business we hear so much about. But, as we all learn at some point, there’s nothing soft about them. Give me numbers or technical issues any day! They’re unemotional.

As with solving any problem in business, the first step is to identify it and get to its root cause. This process usually involves more than one person and can become very emotional. But, just as the cost of avoiding it can be huge, so can the payoff.