INSIGHTS

Can Cofounders Make it Work Despite Different Conflict Styles?

In the high-stakes world of business partnerships, navigating conflicts can be a tricky endeavor. For many cofounder duos, having contrasting conflict styles could spell disaster, but for Frank and his business partner, it’s been a lesson in synergy and adaptability. Frank, a seasoned building contractor known for managing multi-million-dollar developments nationwide, sat down with us to shed light on their unique dynamic.

“I go to guns, fast,” Frank admits with a chuckle. “My business partner is the VOR, or Voice of Reason, who always calmly suggests we wait 24 hours before we make any decisions.” Frank’s conflict style is akin to ripping off a bandaid – he prefers addressing issues head-on and swiftly. However, he acknowledges that his quick trigger can sometimes lead to hasty decisions. “My partner knows that I am prone to rash decisions unless I have a cooling-off period, post-infraction.”

In contrast, Frank’s partner takes a more measured approach to conflicts. He’s the one who believes that sometimes, letting issues simmer can lead to their natural resolution. “He’s happy to avoid conflict in the hopes that it’ll just go away. Sometimes it does. When it doesn’t, it can be more difficult to handle,” Frank explains.

The beauty of their partnership lies in their ability to balance these opposing styles. They’ve learned to leverage their differences to create a robust conflict management system that works for both of them and, ultimately, for their business. Frank elaborates, “We’ve reached a point where we understand each other’s styles and how they complement each other.”

Here are a couple of hypothetical scenarios that illustrate how their contrasting conflict styles could have posed problems for their business:

Scenario 1: The Construction Deadline Crisis

Imagine a scenario where they face a sudden construction deadline crisis due to unforeseen weather delays. Frank’s instinct is to immediately escalate the situation, possibly pushing workers harder or changing the project plan on the spot. His partner, on the other hand, suggests waiting 24 hours to see if the weather conditions improve before making any drastic decisions. While Frank’s approach may seem like a quick fix, it could potentially create chaos and stress among the team. Conversely, waiting might lead to a more informed and less stressful decision-making process.

Scenario 2: Supplier Contract Negotiation

In another situation, they’re negotiating a crucial contract with a key supplier. Frank is ready to assertively compete for the best terms, potentially risking damaging the supplier relationship. His partner, however, advocates for a collaborative approach, aiming for a win-win solution that benefits both parties. This collaborative stance could lead to better long-term supplier relations and mutually beneficial terms.
Frank and his partner’s ability to adapt to each other’s conflict styles is a testament to their commitment to the success of their business. Frank sums it up well, “No matter what, we always keep our company’s best interests at heart. It’s never ‘me against my cofounder’ – we’re a team, and we must always act like one.”

Scenario 3: Marketing Strategy Dilemma

Consider a situation where Frank and his partner are at odds over the company’s marketing strategy. Frank, true to his competitive conflict style, advocates for an aggressive marketing campaign, believing that seizing opportunities quickly is the key to success. He suggests pouring a significant portion of their budget into an upcoming advertising blitz.

On the other hand, his partner, the Voice of Reason, prefers a more cautious approach. He suggests they take the time to conduct market research, gather customer feedback, and carefully plan the campaign. He emphasizes the importance of avoiding excessive risk and overspending.

In this scenario, Frank’s immediate action could lead to a high-pressure, high-stakes marketing campaign that may or may not resonate with their target audience. Meanwhile, his partner’s approach could result in a more informed and strategic marketing plan, reducing the chances of financial setbacks and increasing the likelihood of long-term success. But they might lose precious time and lose their “edge”.

Their differing conflict styles create a tension that forces them to weigh the pros and cons of their respective approaches. Ultimately, they find a middle ground by allocating a portion of the budget for initial research and a smaller-scale campaign to test the waters. This compromise allows them to balance their competing conflict styles and make data-driven decisions while still seizing opportunities in a controlled manner.

Their story serves as an inspiring example of how embracing diversity in conflict styles can lead to a stronger, more resilient partnership. When cofounders are willing to understand and appreciate each other’s unique approaches, conflicts can become opportunities for growth and innovation. And for Frank and his partner, it’s clear that their shared commitment to finding common ground has paved the way for a successful partnership.

The Cofounder's
handbook

An A-Z guide for those in, or searching for, a business partnership.

The Cofounder’s Handbook provides insight, practical advice, and proven tips from actual real-world cofounders on how to build and maintain a rewarding partnership.

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