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I'm Your Business Partner, Not Your 'Honey'!
Excerpts from Let's Go Into Business Together: 8 Secrets to Successful Business Partnering

Given the intimacy of a partner relationship, expectations around personal boundaries need to be spelled out, especially in opposite-sex partnerships, or conflict will erupt. There are no established rules here, as I discovered in my interviews. I met male and female partners who were married to other people and yet shared a hotel room when traveling to save money (with the blessing of incredibly trusting spouses). I spoke with partners who had evolved from a romantic, sexual relationship to "just friends and business partners." I also got to know some business partners who fell in love with each other after working together for a period of time. I even met a business partner who fell in love with, and married, his business partner's spouse (after their business partnership split up and both partners divorced.)

The secret to success is making expectations related to personal space and boundaries explicit and mutual. Perhaps you are a touchy-feely kind of person. Touching your business partner on the shoulder is not intended as a sexual expression, but one of affection. You will need to find out if your affectionate touch toward your business partner is welcome or offensive.

Maybe you call everyone "Hon" or "Sweetie," but your business partner -- or your partner's spouse -- doesn't appreciate it when you refer to him or her that way. Are you a private person who prefers to keep all the details about your personal life under close guard, or are you apt to confide regularly in your partner about the fights in your marriage, your last date from hell, or the troubles you are having with your sister? Just because you regard your business partner as a friend or confidant doesn't mean your partner desires the same relationship with you.

I interviewed two people who were secretly in love with their business partners. In both cases, they shared this information with me privately, not in the presence of their partners. The affection, which was not mutual, and their unrequited love proved so painful and awkward that one gentleman admitted he had begun refusing to travel with his female partner because it was too difficult for him to control his sexual feelings for her while staying in the same hotel with her. Both of these partnerships are in jeopardy.

The issue of personal boundaries applies to same-sex partnerships as well, although it may not focus on sexual issues. You still need to get comfortable with how much personal sharing you will do, what secrets you will hold within the partnership and withhold from friends and colleagues, whether hugs and affection are appropriate -- even how much attention you pay to birthdays and other personal life events. Essentially, no matter what sex your partner is, you are negotiating how much distance you want between your personal life and your working relationship with your partner.

My partner shocked me by throwing a surprise birthday party for me when I turned 50. She invited all of our clients, and I have to say, it was one of the most humiliating experiences of my working life. My partner, a much younger woman than I, didn't comprehend that I had no desire for everyone I work with to know that I had turned 50! I kept my age to myself, especially in working relationships. I felt really exposed. I never told my partner how I really felt because I didn't want her to think I was ungrateful.

Stepping across the line of your partner's personal boundaries can destroy your partnership. If you don't establish ahead of time what your expectations are, one wrong step can critically injure your partnership. In some partnerships, these issues are never discussed because they quite simply never come up. My caution to you is this: If any questions about personal boundaries do arise, address them in the early stages, before misunderstandings occur. Though these can be the most sensitive and embarrassing conversations you have with your partner, ignoring these issues will only endanger your partnership.

Azriela Jaffe is the work and family columnist for Business Week Frontier Online, focusing on issues affecting entrepreneurs and their families. She's the author of several books on the subject and coaches people in business through her firm, Anchored Dreams. For more advice from Jaffe, check out her weekly columns or her Web site.


Reprinted from Let's Go Into Business Together:
8 Secrets to Successful Business Partnering

by Azriela Jaffe.
Copyright 1998, Avon Books Inc.
Reprinted by permission of Azriela Jaffe
All rights reserved.
To order this book, please call 800 236-7323



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