Q: A prospective business partner is a strategic fit, and there is no evidence of impropriety or unethical behavior. However, I have heard that the new party can be difficult to work with and doesn’t operate the way my company does. Should I guide my team away from partnerships with companies and people that are not compatible with my business practices, beliefs or personality?
A: When being different earns someone the label of being “difficult,” it is a good time to pause to make sure a desire for conflict-free dealings isn’t making you vulnerable to unethical behavior. Guiding your team to homogenous harmony through partnerships with people who think and act as all of you do may seem like a good idea, but it can have far-reaching consequences. It means excluding those outside that mold and can morph unconsciously into choosing people of one gender, race, ethnicity or other type of group over another.
The upshot? You’re looking at institutionalizing discriminatory work practices, which can have serious ethical and legal consequences. In addition, operating without diversity limits the team, the business and the universe of ideas and possibilities — and that will have a direct impact on your bottom line.
While there is something seductive about working with people who think and believe as we do, there are significant hidden costs. Having our opinions and ideas quickly validated — which feels great — can lead to a false sense of security. We may even decide that if everyone is onboard, we don’t need additional information. Meetings zip along; there are no stressful conflicts to grate on nerves. Quite simply: Compatibility can be a fast track to complacency — and that can upend a business in no time flat.
The goal in any partnership should be to strengthen the business to better serve customers. If you find a potential partner who’s a good strategic fit but perhaps not a good cultural fit, it’s worth exploring your differences and the value they could bring. Also key: the ability to listen to one another, openness to sharing information, concordance on the business mission and an understanding of the methods you’ll use to work through differences and find solutions.
As for the “difficult” issue: It’s important to understand why someone may be classified as such. For example, a person who expects to hear straight data and skips over social niceties to get to the bottom line can seem rude and callous to someone whose style is more people-focused. It might be worth hiring a consultant skilled in behavior-style differences to help your employees learn to spot and appreciate the ways people like to give and receive information and relate to others.
Of course, the label may very well be spot-on. If you find out the partner-to-be is terminally unaccommodating, never satisfied and closed to feedback, move on. Otherwise, keep in mind that irritants — those who may push us beyond our comfort zone — can generate great value.