Mediating a Partner Dispute about Business Succession

Dear Ms. Allison: My employers have come to a standoff. They no longer speak except behind closed doors. They seem unaware that we can all hear them angrily yelling back there. About 16 months ago, I was asked for some managers’ employee evaluations and information on business succession (I do the HR stuff). Things seemed to go downhill from there. Vendors are asking if something is wrong. Customers have told the distribution manager that they are getting other quotes because they heard the business is in trouble. When I looked for business succession information before, your website came up for planning it and mediation. I wonder if you can mediate things like I’m talking about or do they have to be court-ordered to do it? S.W. near Tulsa

Dear SW:

Indeed, I can mediate business partnership disputes about succession such as you describe and no, the partners do not have to file a lawsuit and wait to be ordered to mediation by the courts.

As you have seen, a business partnership is much like a family (even when the partners are not related by blood or marriage). When partners have conflicts, they may not have the skills to communicate or work out solutions without taking personal offense with each other. Often, they fall into habits like “stonewalling” (refusing to give an inch), sniping at or treating each other with less respect than they would clients or staff. When their dispute regards succession plans (for who takes over after the current leadership dies, retires, or becomes incapacitated) things can get especially difficult. If it cannot be resolved between them, the situation can escalate, just like in a marriage or sibling conflict.

When partners who work together daily have lost or maybe never really had productive ways to communicate with each other, they often become like a dysfunctional family. These conditions can cause constant stress and strife for them, their employees, contractors, suppliers, and ultimately, their customers.

These ongoing, unaddressed business partnership conflicts are known to have caused businesses to fail. Word of the struggles and attitudes seeps into their public reputation causing problems for the brand. In addition, spouses and families of the partners suffer as well, taking either the brunt of negative emotions, depression, or absence of the partner as he or she seeks escape. When such issues continue unaddressed and/or become unbearable, they can ultimately lead to litigation (lawsuits).

Business Succession Mediation is an excellent method of resolving partnership disputes, privately, directly, and quickly. Certainly, it adds value from the objective and best-interest-of-the-business perspective that a mediator brings when the issues at stake are succession and next-generation planning.

A mediator with business succession and management skills can facilitate private discussion and negotiations. When done by video conference, even more time and money is saved, and the parties avoid the direct confrontation that usually prevents resolution. With a neutral 3rd-party mediator to help share information and keep them focused, most times, the resulting business partner succession agreement establishes both solution and reconciliation.

Mediation can save a business’ reputation in the eyes of its employees, suppliers, and consumers. It costs far less than a lawsuit. It begins and ends, usually within a day. And the best part is that mediation has an overwhelming success ratio of showing the parties a fair way to discuss differences, bringing peace to the disputing partners.

If you are uncomfortable suggesting mediation to them, print out this post and leave it for the partners to find. If they contact me, I will gladly answer their questions and help them resolve their issues.

That’s your question, Asked and Answered,
Gale Allison, Mediator

Leave a Comment