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Dealing With A Difficult Partner

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Dealing With A Difficult Partner

June 30, 2015

By Beverly Flaxington

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Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.

Dear Bev,

Our advisory business is going very well. The better it goes, the less involved my business partner becomes. She will come in late, leave early and generally be disruptive when she is here. Everyone on the team comes to me, even those who work for her. I can’t betray her to the staff, but it frustrates me that I am left to deal with so much on my own. God forbid I say anything and she bursts into tears. What can I do?


Dear R.J.,

Unfortunately this passive-aggressive behavior is probably the most difficult to address. I would be lying to say otherwise. That’s because it is so intangible – she is a partner so to say she has “hours” she has to keep would be a problem. You can tell the employees to go to her or tell her she must deal with them, but if she is difficult that could cause more of a problem. And the crying is a smoke screen, but it’s effective. It is hard to deal with someone when they are in an emotional state, and you are forced to address the emotion and not the issue.

This all said, I do recommend my fallback “go to coffee” scenario. I suggest you invite her out to lunch or dinner (no alcohol) and have a heart-to-heart. Don’t address her behavior directly though. Instead, ask her what success looks like to her in the business. What does she want this practice to be over the remainder of 2015, into next year and 5-7 years out? Have pen and paper with you and actually record what she says. Then tell her what you expect. Review the two scenarios, and see if they align.

Next ask her about her obstacles – personal and professional. What’s in her way of being as successful as she’d like to be? Share your obstacles too and explain that one comes from the hours she is keeping and the result that means you are handling too much for the overall practice.

Be sure to ask the questions in just this manner. Asking someone to define success and then asking them specifically about obstacles will often allow someone to open up in a way that they might not otherwise be able to do.

It will hopefully also help you to hear some things and identify what might be going on with her that she isn’t telling you about. I realize this is a difficult situation, so I wish you the best of luck.

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