Learning how to handle an abusive business partner is a tightrope walk. It would be easier to walk away from the business but frequently this is financially or contractually not feasible. That said, there are some steps to take that nip the behavior in the bud or rein it back in.
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What Triggers Abuse?
Trying to find out how to handle an abusive business partner is most likely a new experience. The odds are good that the professional did not willingly or knowingly enter into a business partnership with an outspokenly abusive partner. It stands to reason that along the line of doing business, something changed that triggers the abuse.
The Ceridian Corporation(1) defines these situations as “stress triggers" and mentions – among other situations – some common business problems:
Mounting pressure: If there is too much work to be done and not enough help – or if the amount of work has increased consistently for a prolonged period of time and there is no relief in sight – there is a chance that the stress leads to abuse.
Company change: Perhaps the partnership is in the process of buying another business, being bought out, adding another partner or going public with stock. Uncertainty leads to stress, which in turn can cause some professionals to act out in an abusive manner.
Personal problems: The abusive partner may face relationship problems or severe personal setbacks, such as a death in the family.
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What Does Workplace Abuse Look and Sound Like?
Assuming that there is no sexual or physical abuse occurring (in these cases the authorities should be notified immediately), the abuse is most likely verbal or psychological. Examples include;
Inconsiderate toward others needs. For example, a single business partner with no family nearby may have no problem with calling another partner while the latter is on a family vacation or celebrating a holiday.
Attacking others’ self worth. The other partner may feel that s/he is pulling most of the weight around the office. S/He may follow up on this opinion with abusive voice mails, text messages or emails that berate the recipient.
Verbal assaults and tantrums. Yelling at a business partner, slamming office doors, throwing things and kicking objects are all part and parcel of abusive business practices.
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Getting the Abuse to Stop
Bully Online(2) warns that engaging with the abusive partner is counter-productive. The organization defines the objectives of the abuser as being “power, control, domination and subjugation." Rather than feeding the behavior, it is crucial to counter it.
Ignoring abuse is also the wrong approach, since it allows small issues to grow bigger. In addition, as a partner in a business, there is a certain amount of leverage that may be used to clearly delineate boundaries. Should the business partner cross the line (i.e. make an inappropriate phone call or send a harassing email), the affected partner may withhold business assistance or communication until the next regularly scheduled work day.
Curtail any working relationship the partner has with clients or customers, to protect the viability of the business. Moreover, consider investing in a counselor to come and help establish boundaries in the workplace. If the business relationship was once harmonious but only turned sour later on, this is a good option for protecting the partnership.
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If all else fails, the only way that successfully determines how to handle an abusive business partner is to terminate the partnership. In this case the services of a corporate attorney may be required.