The Fierce Act of Partnering and Boundaries

 by Sarri Gilman, LMFT
I am embarking on a new partnership with my boundary work. I’d like to share what it means to me to form partnerships and honor my needs and boundaries.
To me, any business that wants to thrive in our times, needs to partner.
I have been forming partnerships to launch and grow efforts for three decades and the truth is, partnering is a fierce act that is not for people who are afraid.
I can’t take risks and at the same time, hold back.
I can’t be trusting while at the same time, suspicious.

The Partnership Handshake
My approach to partnering has been the following:
1.   All my business deals for three decades have been made with a handshake. It means we honor our word to each other. Our purpose, our mission together, is meaningful to each of us. (This included property purchases, million dollar funding agreement, subsidiary formation, etc.). Sure each deal has been followed with a legal paper trail, but I never once needed to reference the paper trail in any of my business partnerships. Why?
2.   Because, we put our truth on the table. All of the truth. The truth includes, “What do we need this partnership to yield?”  This involves looking into the future, the future we can’t see and say, “If the partnership yields X, Y and Z, it would be worthwhile.” 
3.   Define failure, define success, and decide what we each need to contribute to aim for success.  Could we live with either outcome and support each other as partners? Is there something to be gained even in failure? 
4.   Your purpose and my purpose are pointing in the same direction. Our mission unites us.

I have partnered with new people as well as those I have extensive history with – and I can say as long as we honor our word, put our truth on the table, understand each other’s purpose, and define failure and success, all things have worked out fine.

Worst Partnership Advice
But each time I have boldly dared to venture into partnerships, here is a list of some of the worst advice I have heard:
1.   “Get yourself a lawyer.” I have never gotten myself a lawyer in a partnership. I have used lawyers collaboratively with all partners. If we are trying to keep the truth on the table, it has helped to work with attorneys collaboratively to keep all the truth on the table where we can both see it.
2.   “Don’t do it! The partner will just use you, take everything, and toss you out.”
This has never happened. All of my partners have valued my work and my abilities and I have valued and needed my partners abilities.  I was never crushed, cast aside or tossed out of a partnership. Nor have I crushed anyone. All of my partners elevated the work, made new possibilities happen, and were heartbroken when I wanted to move on to something else.
3.   “What if the partner loses their job and someone new comes in and they crush you?”
This has never happened. I have “a way out“ of each agreement. We are partners, not prisoners. If I find myself dealing with disagreeable people at the partnership table, I would exit.
However, I have never been given disagreeable new representatives.  I am relationship-oriented and who I work with is always very important to me. All of my previous partners have worked to be sure that I like who I am dealing with and have been more than happy to change out someone on their team if I found it wasn’t a good fit with my working style.

Partners and Boundaries
It helps that I am able to bring a strong sense of my boundaries to the partnership table and ask about the boundaries of my partners. Boundaries are part of all relationships, and they are about needs. What boundaries do you need to care for yourself in the partnership?  These conversations are challenging as sometimes it can be scary to state your boundaries. But if you are able to explain your personal boundaries up front, your partner can decide if that is something they can deal with or not. I have always been clear about “ownership” - who owns what in the partnership. I have protected the parts I own and am responsible for. I have also been very clear about “responsibilities”.  I only partner with people who can elevate the effort because they carry some responsibilities, making it easier to accomplish the purpose.

Some additional boundaries for me are around advance notice to plan my schedule, who I am working with on a team. I have some limits on the hours I can be available, and clarity on what I am paid in the partnership.

Are you ready for partners? What has worked for you in partnerships?

 If you find yourself struggling and need assistance, I offer boundary consultations. More information can be found on my website: