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Positional Power: 5 Ways to Find Common Ground with Your Business Partners

If you happen to be an active majority partner in a business, you may sometimes find yourself struggling for alignment with your minority partner or partners, especially if the minority partners are also involved in the business. They assume because they have some percentage of ownership that they may have the positional power to make unilateral decisions that move the business in a direction that suits their liking. In short, they throw their "weight" around; and they pay little attention to the unintended consequences of doing so.

If you currently find yourself in this position, here are some approaches that many have used successfully to get everyone in the same direction again. Your success with them will depend largely on how strongly you believe and how well you remember that the deceptive or coercive use of these principles can further complicate the situation.

  1. All behavior begins with good intentions. The intentions may not be the same as yours; and, in fact, they may only be good for your partner.  In any case, there is/was a good intention somewhere. The easiest way to find out is simply ask. How you ask is important; so before you launch into some colorful Anglo-Saxon metaphors, begin your question with "Help me understand..."
  2. Read How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. First published in 1936, the principles are particularly important today. If you think something written in the first half of the last century could not possibly have application in contemporary culture, think about how little (if any) change has occurred in human nature.  Humans have all kinds of new technologies available to them, but the basic operating systems of human beings haven't changed significantly over the course of time. If you choose not to read the whole book, at least read Parts Three and Four.  If you can't bring yourself to do that, then ask yourself this simple question: "Why do Tupperware parties work?"
  3. Go talk with your partner. Do it in person; or, if that's not possible at the moment, at least use Skype or a comparable technology so that you and the partner are making visual contact. In a situation like this, personal contact is important. Never, never, never rely strictly on email or memo to get the job done. Words are responsible for 7 percent of the communications process. Generally, the written word only makes things worse. Do not email, do not text, do not tweet. Do go talk and, if possible, focus on what you share in common rather than what appears to be driving you apart. Stress mutual expectations, outcomes, and benefits. That helps keep tough discussions in perspective.
  4. Use peer power or social proof to influence your partner. Effective sales professionals know intuitively and social research is demonstrating that persuasion is particularly effective when it comes from peers. The best testimonials come from people in similar circumstances, so draw on them whenever possible.  Said another way, horizontal influence is more effective than vertical.
  5. Shift from holding people accountable to getting people to be dependable. That happens when you give them a reason (motivation) for doing something.  Usually that motivation involves a desirable outcome that has a particular value for them. It's the old common sense approach that answers the "what's in it for me?" question. People generally do what's in their best interests. Get them to confirm in writing that what you have agreed to will, in fact, happen.  Written commitment is stronger than verbal.

There are many other principles that could be included in this list. You can probably think of several principles that make more sense to you. If those are positive and motivational rather than manipulative, you may well be on to something. Just remember that the most effective power you'll ever have in your kit is your ability to influence others.

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