Dealing with difficult Partners

Of the professional services kind, that is, not domestic partners – I haven’t figured that one out myself yet.

Ok, so you’re working for a partnership and are having difficulty with one or two Partners in particular. Take heart, every practice I’ve worked in has had a few individuals like this. However, rather than coming home muttering incoherently and drowning your sorrows in a vat of cooking sherry each evening, try and look upon this particular challenge as just that. The Partner may well be awkward, but should you manage to persuade them to your way of thinking, they could well turn out to be a powerful ally.

So how do you go from glaring at each other across the boardroom table to sharing and developing the marketing vision for the organisation?

1. Find out as much as you can about them. The secretarial pool would be an excellent start. What do they enjoy doing outside of work? What part do they play in the history of the organisation? Which fee earners do they work particularly well with and who do they dislike? It’s particularly important that you find out what makes them tick and how they like to be communicated with. Then, go out of your way to casually start conversations with them about topics you know they’re interested in, particularly if it has nothing at all to do with work. They will almost certainly be caught off guard and it may be the beginning of a new-found appreciation of each other as individuals.

2. Remember – you can’t change other people’s behaviour, but you can change your own. Use your new-found knowledge to change the way you behave towards that person and the way you communicate with them.

3. Look at the way in which the Partner speaks to you – nine times out of ten, it will be abrupt, less than constructive, short and snappy. You can bet your bottom dollar then, when they ask why a particular design for an advert was used or why the editor spelled their name wrong in a recent press cutting; that a long, flowery excuse is likely to drive them to distraction. Keep your responses polite, short and to the point, and you’ll find that the individual does in fact, respond better to you.

4. Show no fear. If you are confident in what you are doing and sound in your judgement, stay firm in the midst of criticism. Don’t let yourself be intimidated and if you are 100% sure you are in the right, don’t back down. Politely and firmly state your reasons for making a particular decision.

5. Facts and figures. Many Partners have been trained to rely upon facts and figures as a way of judging how well both the business and they personally, are doing. So, in a debate (ie heated argument), never start quoting what Seth Godin says in “The Big Red Fez”, or use words such as “hope”, “should” or “may”. Ensure that your marketing plan is watertight when it comes to measurement of marketing activity, so that you can confidently support whatever you’re saying with figures showing how successful a campaign has been, and how it has contributed to the partnership’s bottom line. Learn finance speak and leave your marketing jargon at the door.

6. Sometimes, it pays to take the bull by the horns and meet this challenge head on. If you have a particular project you’re working on, such as a pitch or a large seminar, why not ask them for their input? In this way, you’re displaying respect and an appreciation of their knowledge and experience, which often goes a long way.

7. If you feel that insecurity is the issue – perhaps you’ve identified that the Partners need to embark on a proactive programme of networking, with which you know this individual will have problems, for example. It may in this instance be advisable to have a quiet word with the Senior Partner and ask if you can introduce some external formal training across the board.

8. Take a particular interest in their specific area of work and case loads. Ask for an hour of their time so they can explain to you exactly what it is they do, what their personal objectives are within the firm and how you can help them meet these objectives. This should be done as an established programme across all Partners, but it does open up the lines of communication.

If all else fails, and you feel that the Partner in question is deliberately undermining you and is in fact presenting an obstacle to reaching your marketing objectives, it is imperative that you approach the Senior Partner and have a quiet word, to gain their support. Remember to give actual instances to back up your complaints and show that you have tried to encourage them to work with you.


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