How to Handle a Verbally Abusive Business Partner

Dialogue is one strategy to deal with abusive business partners.
Dialogue is one strategy to deal with abusive business partners. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

While the term "bullying" is typically associated with the schoolyard, adults in the business world are also perpetrators and victims of bullying, harassment, and other abusive behavior. Navigating the perils of verbally abusive colleagues is especially difficult because of the power dynamics and pressure attached to the workplace. Putting a stop to bullying can be particularly tricky when you are being bullied by a business partner, with whom you are linked by corporate structure or by a contract. There are, however, strategies you can employ to deal with such verbal abuse.

Identify the problem and recognize that you did not initiate it. This is the first step toward resolving the root causes of the abusive behavior.

Maintain a diary of the incidents and keep written evidence of such behavior.

Maintain calm throughout your efforts to eliminate the abuse. Imitating the emotional or confrontational habits of your abusive partner may only serve to inflame the situation.

Speak directly to your business partner about his or her abuse. Arrange a time to discuss the pattern of verbal abuse and, tactfully but assertively, say why you believe you are the target of harassment and how it is affecting you personally and professionally and how is is having a negative effect on your business.

Organize a mediation session with the partner, if the verbal abuse does not cease after direct dialogue. A neutral, third-party mediator can encourage both parties to express their perspectives and guide you and the partner to a mutually agreeable solution or understanding.

Assert yourself in verbal confrontations. Being assertive does not mean being aggressive; rather, it means advocating for yourself in the face of verbal abuse. Stand your ground during disagreement and politely and clearly tell the abusive business partner that you refuse to stand for such abuse.

Maintain positive working relationships with employees under your charge. If your business partner is abusive toward you, he may also be abusive toward subordinate employees. In this way, you can seek out the sympathy of other workers and work to maintain a "united front" in the face of abuse. Just be careful not to form isolating alliances that your business partner may consider hostile.

Reconfigure your working relationship. Along with your partner, develop a mutually acceptable agreement wherein you minimize the time in which you are working side by side. The nature of the arrangement will depend, of course, on the particulars of your own business, and it would be impossible to completely eliminate direct interaction, but reducing the number of hours you spend together could help relieve some of the tension and reduce or eliminate the pattern of abuse.

Sever the abusive relationship, if all other measures fail. Ideally, you'll be able to work out the conflict and establish a healthy professional relationship, but if your partner refuses to alter his behavior, you may find it emotionally and professionally necessary to end the partnership.

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