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The Challenging Business of Negotiating with Friends

By JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr (JB Shelton)

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So very often, we negotiate with folks who are our business associates, partners and colleagues, but who also have personal places in our lives. It’s a tricky business that goes beyond the standard dynamics of negotiating into an intimate realm filled with dangers. The dangers include the potential loss of a good friend, a business relationship, or both.

We humans have limitless potential to love and be loved. Practice our passions. Focus on our talents and leave legacies for future generations. Give from our hearts, minds and souls. Amaze and astonish by creating what never existed before. And Lord, all too often we royally screw it up: Let’s examine how not to.

In the Beginning

You share a history with your college roommate, having become best friends as freshmen, you lived through the joys, trials and tribulations of transforming yourselves from inexperienced students to knowledgeable adults. In a moment of grand enthusiasm, you decide to create a business based on your mutual talents. What is, after all, the point of entrepreneurship that doesn’t lead to career and personal success?

Negotiator, first: Friend, second

All the basic tenets of negotiating are even more essential when friends negotiate. I’ll use the college roommates/entrepreneurs as an example.

Negotiator, first: Friend, second: Establishing a new business requires negotiating beyond the logic of applying each person’s attributes to achieving mutual goals in multiple roles. The advantages of knowing each other’s personalities, experiences and quirks are outweighed by the realities of dueling egos.

“During a negotiation, it would be wise not to take anything personally. You will be able to see opportunities more objectively,” wrote Brian Koslow, author of Self-Made – Generate Wealth Like a Millionaire.

Beyond titles: The math whiz who is providing 75% of initial funding is chief financial officer. The well-LinkedIn extrovert is president; his connections encompass unlimited sources of professional expertise, prospective clients and potential employees. It is the honest discussion and specific, written delineation of job descriptions beyond top titles that will eliminate dueling egos.

Equally essential, is communicating effectively to prove how each friend is assigned a percentage of the company’s value. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar tells us, “Money isn’t the most important thing in life, but it’s reasonably close to oxygen on the ‘gotta have it’ scale.”

Time is of the essence: We negotiators are fully aware of the importance of timing, presenting ourselves as focused professionals, bringing up topics at appropriate times, avoiding issues when stress and deadlines demand doing so.

Business partners who work and socialize together cannot underestimate the necessity for time apart. Absence can make hearts grow fonder and business run smoother. With physical separation, partners have time to appreciate other aspects of their lives as individuals. When partners maintain dual roles — as both business associates and friends — it is difficult to be objective when negotiating with each other. Separation can provide privacy, time to contemplate both personal and professional issues, and renew relationships with fresh attitudes.

You Want Me to Do What?

Even when we know a business partner/friend very well, situations will arise that surprise us, not with delight, but with anger. Mastering these emotional moments differ from negotiations with people we will likely never encounter again. Even when we are not in the same room as our business partner, we may not be able to get them out of our thoughts.

Business partners do well when they agree to perpetually say what they mean and mean what they say. The “You want me to do what?” response, delivered lightly, smilingly, yet sincerely, will lighten your angry reaction and put your friend on immediate notice that he is asking for the impossible or unimaginable. It is then time to come full circle to rethinking and rephrasing the request and continuing a productive conversation between friends.

Knowing Too Much about Each Other

John D. Rockefeller, industrialist and philanthropist, warned, “A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship.”

It is unfair, unbusinesslike and unprofessional to take personal knowledge into negotiations. It is also impossible not to do so. The key is thinking through to be fully aware of how and why you are using inside information to influence the negotiation’s outcome. Business will flourish when both cfo and president mindfully give priority to mutual benefits.

Daring Onward

In a world where we’re multitaskers, becoming experts at simultaneously succeeding as business people and friends is still challenging. It is a challenge, however, so rich in personal and professional rewards that we must — for ourselves and each other — strive to negotiate as if our lives depended upon doing so: For they do.

JB Shelton Photo
JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr (JB Shelton) is a journalist based in Raleigh and Oxford, NC. She writes about children growing up and grownups reinventing themselves. JB teaches Professional Negotiating Skills: Transforming Life’s Challenges into Win-Win Results at Duke University in Durham, NC.  Angel in Your Mirror: Musings from the Curly Mind of JB Shelton-Spurr is available on Contact her at [email protected].

Copyright © 2013 JemmaBlythe Alexander Shelton-Spurr
Copyright ©   2013  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  October 2013