It’s no surprise to anyone who knows us that my business partner Tony and I have our disagreements. Over the course of the nearly 10 years that we’ve known each other, the six-and-a-half years we’ve been in business together, and the five years we’ve been raising our daughter Catherine, there have been any number of tense moments, sharp words and, occasionally, shouting matches. But through it all – and that includes our 2012 divorce – we’ve managed to maintain a working relationship that actually works and a co-parenting arrangement that is beneficial.
People often ask how we’re able to co-exist successfully. I usually respond with some joke, like we haven’t made eye contact in three years, or I just drink a lot. But neither are true. We literally stare at each other over the divider every day, and if I were that much of a drunk, they’d probably take my kid away. The truth is much more boring: we work hard to get along, and we focus on the big picture when things inevitably go sideways.
The best method we have to cool off conflicts is to take a deep breath and remind ourselves that we don’t want a “Bob and Jim situation.” One of the companies Tony worked for before Legion was started by two partners, who we will call “Bob” and “Jim.” Bob and Jim were initially best friends and totally compatible when it came to the business. But about seven years in, something changed. Bob wasn’t happy with the direction Jim wanted to take the company, and Jim apparently didn’t give a crap. Things got so bad that by the time Jim bought out Bob’s shares, they couldn’t even speak to each other – they had to communicate through administrative assistants and other people at the company. It was ugly, to say the least.
Tony and I used Bob and Jim’s story as a cautionary tale when we were going through our divorce. We agreed to never let a conflict get so bad that we couldn’t at least be civil with each other. It is easy, sometimes, to fire off mean emails or nasty text messages, or say hurtful things in face-to-face meetings. Emotions run high, Tony and I are both incredibly stubborn, and we have an unusually complicated history, which makes it even easier to be personal, or sharp, or dismissive of the other person. And that ugliness corrodes what makes relationships – both business and personal – work. Stopping that ugliness is critical to us being able to avoid becoming Bob and Jim.
No matter what happens at Legion, Tony and I will always be in each other’s lives. We have a daughter. We will always be some kind of family. And Legion is made up of gallons of our individual and joint blood, sweat and tears. The good decisions (and the bad ones) were all made together. We both want Legion to be successful, we just have different ideas sometimes about how that is going to happen. And with our strengths, we make up for the other’s weaknesses. Legion wouldn’t be what it is today without both of us, and no matter how strongly we disagree, that fact does not change.
So my recommendation to other business partners is to take a moment when things get heated or out of control or nasty and remind yourself that no one is served when relationships end up so dysfunctional that normal conversation is no longer possible. And no one in your company wants to serve as the middleman in a childish game of telephone. If Tony and I can do it, anyone can.
by Lacy Starling, President & Fearless Leader