When Business Partners Disagree: A Reason to Call in a Mediator

When business partners disagree, it should not be surprising. There have been disagreements between partners for as long as there have been partners. However, disagreements can reach the point that the daily operations of the business suffer. Perhaps one partner wants to take out a loan that another partner disagrees with. Or, perhaps the partners cannot agree as to whether the business should enter a deal with another company. If a disagreement becomes major or a pattern of disagreement starts to develop, it may become harder and harder for the partners to continue working as a team for the benefit of the business. Fortunately, mediation is a tool that is being used to resolve more and more business partner disputes across the country.

Each mediation is different, depending on the partners and the particular dispute they have. If it is a dispute that so divides them that they could be headed to court, the process may be more formal and more focused on finding a specific resolution – perhaps finding the best compromise between them. If it is an intractable operational dispute, the mediation may focus on removing sticking points from the discussion so the partners are able to separate the forest from the trees and address core points of disagreement – setting up the conditions for more collaborative decision making that is not focused primarily on bargaining positions. It is helpful for a mediator to have enough of a business background to understand both the substantive issues and how businesses actually work. That way, if called for, the mediator can help the parties develop new ideas for resolving their dispute. In any case, the partners are in control of whether, how, when and what kind of resources they devote to reaching agreement, since, unlike a judge or arbitrator, mediators have no decision-making power.

Although people are sometimes reluctant to acknowledge it, many business disputes do have an emotional aspect. Business partners may spend more time with each other than they do with their spouses. When they disagree, they can become just as angry as if they were squabbling spouses. While trained mediators know techniques to mitigate disruptive influences in negotiations, it may be that these influences are at the core of the disagreement. One of the great benefits of mediation if the circumstances call for it is the ability to tell one’s story and have it heard. This often goes a long way toward dismantling roadblocks to agreement. It is also something that most parties are surprised to learn is rarely available in court.