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Friends & Partners

by Douglas E. Welch

May 5, 2000

© 2000, Douglas E. Welch

It seems that no matter where I go, I am always treated to career stories. These stories come from all sorts of people and all sorts of relationships. At a recent wedding a friend was so upset by a career move we spent nearly the entire reception discussing it. While she works in the entertainment industry, her story applies just as well to your high tech careers, in fact, almost any career.

I thought you were my friend?

My friend had decided to leave her agent, a common process in Hollywood. Over the last few years this agent had made a few business mistakes and she was not happy with his work. She informed her agent of her decision and then the trouble started. He quickly leapt into a tirade and took her decision very, very personally. It was as if a marriage was breaking up, not a business relationship. He berated her and made every effort to make her feel guilty. The whole incident left her feeling very upset for many days after. She found herself doubting her own judgement, even though she had carefully weighed the situation.

How it should/should not be

A personal attack, like the one my friend experienced, can often be taken as the first sign that you have made the right decision. A professional businessperson should never confuse business with friendship. Sure, they might try to convince you to stay, but it should be done in a calm and reasonable fashion, not through screaming fits and personal attacks. If someone reacts in this way you can be assured that you are better off without him or her. Such an event would have occurred sometime in the future if you had not precipitated it now.

Do not let anyone use guilt to change your mind. If you have fulfilled your business promises then you have no reason to feel guilty. If the person tries to woe you back you in more subtle ways you must remember to evaluate any promises made. Too often, these promises fail to pan out and you waste even more time and energy in a relationship you have already decided is not in your best interest.

In your own best interest

Too often people, whether agents who work for you, or the people for whom you work, claim to be working in your best interest. The truth, though, is much murkier. Sure, when times are good we can all be altruistic and help one another to succeed, but when it comes to the hard decisions, hiring, firing or money, we can only make the best decision for ourselves. I am sure my friend's agent thought she was foolish for leaving. Perhaps he thought her ungrateful as well. More to the point, though, he was calculating the lost income that would come from losing this client. He wasn't thinking about my friend's need to find someone that would do a better job for her.

Major decisions can cause us all to lose perspective. We have to insure that we are being truthful with ourselves, as well. I would be less sympathetic to my friend's decision had she made it in the heat of anger. Instead, she put much thought into the decision and based it on logical thought not the emotions of the moment. We would all be well advised to do the same. If you act out of emotion then they are liable to act out of emotion as well.


As many of you know, friends or relatives are forming more and more Internet start-ups. Unfortunately, this can often lead to much distress when business issues diverge from the friendship itself. It is always better to clearly lay out how the business will continue to function if one or more of the friends leave. You should establish ways of settling disagreements at the very founding of the company. Don't ignore the possibility that the relationship may not work out. Don't wait until there is a problem. Whenever you enter into a business relationship with a friend or relative you must be aware that troubles in the business can easily spill over into the personal relationship. It may sound grim, but you need to understand that the beginning of a business could lead to the end of a friendship.

We must all do our best to divorce our personal relationships from our business relationships. Even in the best of times, though, there will be issues. Don't let someone ,acting out of emotion, confuse you or guilt you into doubting your own judgement. Good businesspeople will never do that to one another.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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