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How to Facilitate Discussion
The key to facilitating discussion between business partners is to get each partner to listen to the other objectively and be willing to compromise. Each partner may firmly believe that his or her ideas for the business are the best ideas. If one partner feels the other is doing something that won't benefit the company, that could create tremendous tension and problems. If partners become stubborn and dig in their heels when they have a difference of opinion, however, ultimately that can be the most detrimental situation of all for the company.
Thus, facilitating discussion involves getting the partners to take the time to truly listen to each other, to weigh the proposals or ideas made by the other partner, and to be open to compromise and to finding a way to incorporate both ideas.
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Put It in Writing
It is too easy not to listen to a business partner's comments, arguments or suggestions when you are fired up and in the heat of the moment. It is also too easy to interrupt another person if you feel as though you have something important to say. However, if you have a written proposal or document, you cannot interrupt. You may also be more likely to read the entire document through.
If two business partners are having a dispute or disagreement, the situation may be helped if each makes their point in writing. If they can each back up their case or suggestions with specific reasons or data, the process of creating the written document may also help to make the issue more clear.
Both parties can read the written proposals by the other party and then they can meet together to discuss what they have learned, or to point out strengths and weaknesses in the other party's proposal. They could also respond in writing if the situation or disagreement is especially contentious, since being forced to write down their opinions may make each partner more conscious of what he says and how he says it.
This sort of open discussion, in which each party is forced to think about what they say and to really consider what the other party says, may help the partners to find a resolution to disagreements or to come up with better ideas than ever before.
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Identify Common Goals
Even if two partners may not have the same ideas, often there are some common goals that they each want to accomplish or there is a common vision statement they share. At the beginning of a meeting or discussion, the partners should make a list together of the common goals that they want to achieve. This can start the meeting off on the right foot, because the partners will begin by discussing things that they each agree upon. Furthermore, it can help guide the rest of the meeting. If one partner or another makes a statement that seems contrary to the goals, the other partner can ask for examples or a demonstration of how it will fit into the goals they have laid out together.
This can help the party who is making the suggestion to make his argument more clear and structured. It can help the partner who disagrees see why his partner is making the particular suggestion and how his partner sees it fitting into the big picture
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Consider a Mediator
Sometimes the presence of a third party can help two individuals determine where communication breakdowns are occurring or can help two parties to come to a resolution. The mediator can be anyone, but ideally it should be a neutral person who doesn't have a vested income in seeing one partner or the other succeed. An impartial mediator can provide a set of new eyes to help the parties reach a solution and can help encourage open and positive communication among the partners.