I often joke with other professionals how our life would be so much easier if we didn’t have clients. I think that the same may be true of working with partners. In general most partners I have met are perfectly nice and reasonable people. However, that is not always the case all of the time. Here are my 6 tips on how to successfully work with unreasonable partners:
1. Consider the wider context
Whilst you may only have a small bit of the client assignment to complete, the partner is exposed to the whole of the project, warts and all. Very often the partner is the one taking the brunt of a client’s demands, and balancing this with aiming to get a decent recovery on the assignment. Add into the mix that they may be at the same time be dealing with three other clients whose projects are going pear-shaped, and potentially a major firm crisis. None of which they can share with you. Consequently, it’s understandable if at times their behaviour can be unreasonable. Of course, this doesn’t excuse their bad behaviour, but it may make it easier to deal with.
2. Remember that they own the firm, and enjoy both the risks and rewards of being a partner
Most partners have climbed their way up the ladder to get to the position they are now. Whether their behaviour is reasonable or not, very often you need to learn to like it or, being rather blunt, leave the firm. However, if their behaviour crosses the line into bullying, harassment or discrimination, then this is a different matter. You need to keep notes of when this is happening and take your concerns to your HR representative. Whilst the partner may own a slice of the firm, that doesn’t condone or entitle them to break the law.
3. Let them softly know the impact of their behaviour
This is a high risk strategy, and one which you need a truck load of bravery and balls to do. This is where you gently and respectfully let them know how their behaviour is impacting on you. Sometimes this may do the trick, other times it’s not going to make any difference.
4. Ask your mentor about them
If you don’t fancy the direct approach, you could have a conversation with your mentor about this partner. In this conversation find out more about this partner’s behaviour – is this normal? Are they under a lot of stress? What are their trigger points? You may find that the partner treats everyone like this, and that’s just the way it is.
5. Find out how others manage them
Being politically astute is a skill you need to learn to survive and thrive in a professional services firm. Therefore, ask around your peers and friends to how they manage this person.
6. Find out the Partner’s expectations of you
Partners are often very set in their ways. It’s up to you to adjust your working style and your behaviour to them, not the other way around. You may find it useful to have a conversation with them to understand their expectations of you, how they like to work, and their pet peeves. Knowing this information could help you to have a smoother working relationship with them.