Devan Sabaratnam
Currently in a partnership.
25 years in partnerships.
2 partnerships gone bad.

The biggest lesson for me from partnerships that went bad in the past is “Keep the Emotion out of it”. It is extremely difficult, but very necessary if you want to navigate the stormy waters effectively.

It is all too easy to become bitter and cynical and to attack each other on a personal level. But sometimes even a business decision like how to split remaining assets is shrouded in emotion, which makes it harder than it needs to be.

At times like these, you probably need to seek guidance from a business colleague or mentor (Note: NOT family or anyone who cares for you on a personal level, and may be biased) to look at the situation from a clear, business viewpoint, and help you make the hard decisions with a clinical eye, devoid of any emotional attachment.

Sometimes a mediator can help to act as the ‘go between’ in order to keep things on a civil level. From my experience, it is all too easy to say the wrong thing or to be perceived to be attacking the other person purely based on the choice of words or tone of voice. It is a critical balance though. Very often, I would hesitate to get back to the other party because I wanted to either cool off or think about my answer carefully, but the lack of immediate response was seen as a negative (i.e. they thought I was holding back or hiding something, which can lead to further breakdown of trust).

That is why, even though we may disdain lawyers, they have their place in the world, to handle matters like this with impartiality and cold logic. Even if you don’t use a lawyer – someone with business acumen or counseling skills can act as a mediate or go-between to keep lines of communication open and civil.

We try and be really honest and upfront about our concerns with any issue that we may have opposing issues on, whether it is something small like a UX change, or bigger matters like company direction or looking for funding etc.

One critical thing to keep in the back of your mind in situations like this is: “We are all on the same side”. Every stakeholder in the business is looking for the best outcomes, so try and remember this if you ever feel like the other party is ‘attacking’ you – 99% of the time, they are not, but rather they are thinking they are doing what is best for the company.

As well as explaining your point of view, try and back it up with evidence and facts, rather than emotion. A wise man once told me: “If nobody is happy with a final decision, then it is a good compromise”. Be prepared to sacrifice your ego or pride in these cases. Some of my best learning has been from times that I have perceived that I had to ‘back down’ only to find out later that it was the best decision. Trust in your partners that sometimes they may know better than you.