Keeping a business afloat when the trust is gone

Someone I had encountered earlier in my legal career came to me because of disagreements with his business partner. They had an online shop that was doing very good business, but they no longer trusted one another. From the accuracy of the sales figures to the choice of suppliers, each questioned everything that the other one did. This revealed the depths of the distrust between the two, whose joint enterprise employed five staff.

One of the partners could not take it any longer and started to suffer from depression, while the other dealt with his uncertainty by becoming aggressive. I took on the case as a negotiator between the two, but very soon one of them didn’t even want to discuss the matter. How could this be resolved? The advantage of negotiation over mediation is that you have a lot more freedom in the way you deal with the situation. I saw that the business was suffering badly and that the financial damage would be huge if no settlement were reached, so in the end in my role as negotiator I took it in turns to talk to and negotiate with each of the parties.

With the aggressive partner, I even conducted the negotiations by going through a draft settlement agreement clause by clause. When this resulted in a serious proposal, the other partner finally woke up and after a short discussion and a few minor amendments he reluctantly agreed to sign. A number of emotional conversations I had had with him earlier had given me an insight into his wishes and I was able to reflect just enough of these in the agreement for him to agree to it. The result was a lengthy, unwieldy settlement agreement full of compromises, but it was successful.

This ensured that the company was saved, so there was still something to divide up. I also got them to agree that if they got into dispute about anything they would have the matter decided by a binding advisor.

With patience and persistence I was able to resolve about 95% of their problems, acting on my conviction that these partners needed a practical solution. They ended up going to a binding advisor three times to resolve the last contentious issues.

A good example of how an apparently insoluble dispute can, with a great deal of creativity and patience, still be brought to a satisfactory resolution.