There are numerous articles about the obvious reasons why startups fail. The ultimate reason, of course, is running out of money. But how and why they get to that results in various ways. One of the most underlooked reason is poor communication and conflict between founders.
In many cases, people realize that the partner they have chosen isn’t the right person to build the company with. That is a different problem. It is almost like realizing you married the wrong person and you know that divorce is inevitable and it needs to happen sooner than later.
Talking to founders and referring to my own experience starting a podcast with my partner Katy Trost, I can relate to the sentiment that a relationship between founders resembles a marriage to a big extent. You spend tremendous amounts of time together, often work together even on the weekends and care about your business, as if it was your child.
The big difference which makes it even harder, as one of my entrepreneur friends – Cody Candee jokes about, is that when a conflict arises, make-up sex doesn’t work.
In a case where you know that your co-founder is the person for you, but communication is either difficult or non- existent, then you have a real problem.
Avoiding the ultimate failure and running out of money is the main reason to spend time and invest in maintaining the relationship. Having a healthy, trustworthy and reliable bond between the co-founders are a vital criteria investors pay attention to when making a decision to fund your business.
In fact, a study by Noam Wasserman, a professor at Harvard Business School found that 65% of high-potential startups fail as a result of conflict among co-founders. In his book “The Founder’s Dilemma”, he studied 10,000 founders and a lot of their team issues, to showcase the importance of successfully navigating communication.
Making sure you get along is essential, so here are five ways to help you resolve conflict, grow together and thrive.
Understand that it is ok to experience conflict
In fact, it would be more concerning if you didn’t disagree from time to time. Then it would mean that one of you isn’t as committed as they need to be in making it work. You can learn a lot through navigating a healthy disagreement. It allows for seeing the other point of view, getting more insights and essentially growing the business. When a conflict arises, remind yourself that every relationship has its ups and downs and needs work.
Commit to getting back to the issue and make time for it. In the fast-paced startup environments, it is understandable that co-founders often have the desire to just keep moving forward. Every time they run into conflicts with each other they tend to ignore them and move on with the “more important tasks”. Not addressing the issue for long periods of time allows the accumulation of negative energy.
This usually leads to risks affecting the decision making and the overall interaction within the team, but also on the outside- with investors and clients.
Unfortunately keeping ignoring the issues will not make them disappear. It even may deepen the negative feelings and make it way more difficult to resolve when they sit too long. Even if you feel that you can’t deal with it immediately, make sure that you both acknowledge that you will get back to it.
Get back to your shared purpose
Founders often forget that they’re on the same team. They have the same goal and share the same passion for their business. When times get tough, it is important to make an effort to return to their “why,” to remind each other they both have skin in the game and they wouldn’t be there without having the other person on board. This will create the basis of trust, which leads to the next step.
Consciously work to cultivate trust
The shared experiences, both positive and negative are what builds that special bond. Remember, you are in this together. Your fears and desires are most likely the same as your co-founders’. Talk about them, own them and lean in. Be vulnerable and open to allow the sharing to happen.
You need to know what is important to the other person so you can understand better what makes them angry, fearful or defensive. Part of building trust is getting to know yourself and the other person on a deeper level.
When you really understand your partner, then you can relate to them better, you can empathize and minimize blaming and reduce conflict.
Spend time together outside of work
Take hikes, workout or do any activities that don’t involve work. During these times ask questions and try to understand what the other person really needs. How to approach them when a conflict arises and help them understand how you would like to be approached. Sometimes it is hard to know what the other person needs if you haven’t taken the time to get clear on it.
A part of creating effective communication is understanding “the language” your partner speaks. A big deal of conflicts come from the fact that one or the other haven’t felt heard. Try to identify what are the ways your partner feels acknowledged and his opinion validated.
There is a great book by Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages, where he explains the different primary languages of appreciation people may have. Since the relationship between co-founders truly resembles a marriage, the book offers invaluable insights to apply to your business.
When Katy and I experienced our first big conflicts, we decided to take a bit of time and talk about the values we honor in regards to our business and what happens if we dishonor them. We talked about specific ways we like to act when a problem arises and even came up with a word we wanted to use to remind each other about the importance of what we are building together. This helps us return back to alignment until we find space and a better time for a resolution.The big difference which makes it even harder, as one of my entrepreneur friends - Cody Candee jokes about, is that when a conflict arises, make-up sex doesn’t work.Click To Tweet
Navigating conflicts is tough and there will be times you will question everything. You will ask yourself if it was worth it and if you should continue the journey. In these times you need to remember who you are and what you are about. Why is this company important to you and your partner?
No question — relationships are hard work. And just like any relationship, the co-founders one require attention and nurturing. If you manage to maintain it and do the work, your company and everyone involved will advance faster and thrive.
What are some ways you found helpful for navigating conflict? Share in the comments below!