Books, songs, and articles have been devoted to the art, science, and heartache of breaking up. Many heart breakers turn to friends and family for advice on what to say and how to say it when the loving feelings fade and it’s time to walk away.
Breaking up is tough. Even when you know it’s necessary, it can be awkward and uncomfortable. Most entrepreneurs start relationships without having an exit plan. We say “It’s just business,” but that’s rarely true. Our emotions tie into many of the decisions we make about people. We often find ourselves avoiding important conversations that would move our businesses forward because facing people can be intimidating.
Whether it’s a vendor, a joint venture partner, or an employee, here’s a basic guide for calling it quits with your business — and sanity — intact.
Be Clear about Why You’re Breaking Up: If you were to ask the average person why their last relationship ended, they would probably give you a reason that wasn’t entirely accurate. There’s a good chance that there was miscommunication somewhere in the breakup process. Take the time to think about why you’re breaking up with this person in your business. Are they chronically late for meetings? Have they consistently missed deadlines that are costing you money? Put the issues in writing and know exactly why you’re breaking up before you make any moves.
Have the Conversation: The discomfort of confrontation lends itself to avoidance. Vague statements such as “This isn’t a good fit” leave the other party to wonder what really happened that led to the breakup. In most instances, you do yourself and the other a party a favor if you clearly articulate your reasons without being accusatory. This is especially true in situations with employees, where wrongful termination could become an issue. Talk with the person before breaking up. Your issues may be a product of a misunderstanding.
Accept Responsibility: Dale Carnegie, the leadership and relationship building legend, advised readers to point out their own shortcomings before those of others. Other people find it easier to acknowledge their part in a situation when we’re able to first point to our own issues. When you’re breaking up with someone in business, acknowledge how the circumstances or your actions may have contributed to the erosion of the relationship.
Offer Praise: Even if you’ve decided that you can’t move forward with a person, you can probably think of at least one or two things that you appreciate about them and their work. Extend praise before criticism. It will disarm the other person and create an environment that lends itself to a productive conversation instead of a shouting match.
Communicate Clearly: Thinking through your reasons for ending the relationship will allow you to communicate those reasons more clearly. Avoid vague terms and sugar-coating. Be honest without being abrasive. If a breakup is the goal, the other party should clearly understand that the relationship is being terminated and why.
State the Next Steps: State your post-breakup intentions and offer the other party an opportunity to tie up any loose ends or gain closure. If paperwork needs to be signed or property needs to be returned, state when you’ll address those things.
Put it In Writing: Send a confirmation email or letter that sums up the final conclusions and stated actions. If a contract needs to be terminated, send an official letter doing so. Be firm yet polite in reiterating the conclusions and making any necessary requests.
Many entrepreneurs are taught how to build good business relationships, but they’re rarely taught how to end one that isn’t working. Now that you’re armed with a step-by-step method for breaking up, you can manage your relationship from a place of power.