Advice from A-Z: Keeping Your Partner Informed

by Azriela Jaffe

copyright 2000, Azriela Jaffe

Awhile ago my husband Stephen excused himself from the kitchen where the family was assembled, to make an important phone call. He is now gainfully employed, but while he was unemployed, our family health insurance was canceled because of a paperwork error on the part of the company carrying our COBRA plan. I had an upcoming outpatient medical procedure that would cost us several hundred dollars if it wasn't covered by insurance, so we had to get it resolved. Stephen went upstairs to call the administrator in charge of our case, to make sure that our insurance had been reinstated as promised.

He returned several minutes later and I tried to judge by the look on his face whether it had gone well, or not. I couldn't tell. I waited a few moments for him to tell me, knowing how he doesn't like it when I nag him.

I heard nothing. Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore, so I said, "SO?!!!" He looked at me with a quizzical expression, trying to figure out what my "so" referred to. Then, determining that I must have meant, "how was your day?," he launched into a description of a conference he had attended that day.

I stood in wonder for a moment, and then cut him off mid sentence to say "No, Stephen. I was wondering about the insurance." "Oh, he replied. It's taken care of. We're reinstated."

He had fixed the problem, there was nothing more to say. Included in the job description wasn't, "tell my wife." Once the problem was fixed, his mind moved on to the next task that needed doing.

Now, let's imagine that Stephen and I were business partners - married or not. And let's say through an administrative error, all of the employees were temporarily deleted from the company's insurance coverage. Now, what expectations would there be that one partner would inform the other about the news, good or bad, and in what time frame? Immediately? At the next staff meeting? Only when the problem had been completely solved, or when new developments occurred along the way? When it was convenient for each partner's schedule, or was it important enough news to interrupt ongoing business?

There isn't a right answer to this question that applies to all business partners. Some partners might feel huffy if they weren't immediately informed of certain situations. Other partners leave it to the person who is in charge of that job responsibility, and as long as the building isn't burning down, or some other emergency, they don't need to know. The key to making YOUR partnership work is to determine ahead of time how you and your partners will handle that delicate matter of keeping each other informed.

Here is some guidance for you to consider if you are in any kind of business partnership:

  1. Talk with your partners about individual preferences for being informed. That includes what you want to know about, and when, if something arises outside of your job responsibilities, when you want to hear about it, and when you are expected to update your partners on something that is within your jurisdiction. Determine the kinds of information that you consider important to pass along immediately, and to whom, and what can wait for the next scheduled meeting.
  2. Honor the person who needs to know the most. For example, if you are fine with catching up on details once a week, but your partner prefers more of a daily update, lean toward keeping the one who needs more communication happy. Otherwise, these persons will become huffy about not being informed of things that they deem essential, and they will eventually accuse you of hiding something from them, or not keeping them informed enough to enable them to do their jobs.
  3. Honor the needs of the person who would prefer NOT to spend hours of their week keeping their partners informed. Make those meetings short and to the point, and scheduled, so that each of you can still get your work done the rest of the day.
  4. If you are in a partnership of three or more, get in the habit of cc'ing other partners when you are emailing one of the partners, if it would help to keep other partners informed.
  5. Keep a folder called "partner update" and throw into it any slips of paper or notes to yourself of items that you need to remember when updating your partners.
  6. Put a post-it-note on your computer desktop and make notes into it about the information that you want to relay to your partners.>
  7. Don't depend on other employees to be your messengers, unless it's a trusted office manager, administrative assistant, or someone that all the partners agree is skilled enough to handle that kind of responsibility. The other day I asked my five year old, Sarah, to tell Daddy that I was done with the computer and he could use it now. She loves getting jobs to do. She leapt out of the office where she was hanging with me and I heard her shout, "Daddy, Mommy said the Computer, Mommy said, Ah Daddy, Mommy, the computer. . . . ." And then she returned to the office. "Mommy, what did you want me to tell Daddy?"
  8. Never keep secrets from your partners. It's the beginning of the end. If you are starting to withhold updates intentionally, as opposed to simply letting it fall through the cracks, there are serious problems in your partnership.

Partnerships are about sharing control. It makes you feel out of control and vulnerable when you have not been informed of a work issue that you believe has serious implications for how you will prosper in your business. Spend the extra minutes making sure that your partners feel reassured that they have been included and updated on anything important to them, and your partnership will operate a lot smoother.

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