How To Spot Deceiving And Backstabbing Business Partners

He was wishful, hopeful, creative, dedicated, passionate, hardworking and he wanted to make a difference in the society. But, along with all that, he felt he was alone (but not unfortunate). He was fortunate enough to get some more people like him, along with him, who not only shared his vision but also his zeal and passion to do something.

Needless to say, they were an incredible team, which set out to make an impeccable difference to the world. Little would have someone thought that this team would fall apart one-day, leaving things in a lurch and darkening the vision with which the team had set out.

As much as you would like to think so, this is not the story of any particular individual or a particular team. However, this is more or less, the story of many business partnerships gone awry, many business partners ending up estranged and more often than not, one or more of the partners ending up being victims in such a situation.

Someone, with a very altruistic vision and a benevolent attitude, falls to the subterfuge of one or more of the deceiving or backstabbing partners. This eventuality seems almost inevitable with us having to witness so many great partnerships at some point in time, falling apart. So, the pertinent questions that arise are,

  1. Is there an emerging a pattern in the behavioural dynamics of partners?
  2. Are there are any symptoms to find out a potential deceiving business partner?
  3. How do you handle the situation once you detect the symptoms?

There have been some very famous cases of business partnerships breaking, like the Ambani brothers with the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG) group now facing closure. Then, we have the case of Housing.com CEO Rahul Yadav’s famous resignation, which created ripples in 2015. Further examples include the very recent Shopclues breakup, wherein founder Sandeep Aggarwal’s marital discord with wife and partner Radhika Aggarwal was affecting the business adversely, or the Cyrus Mistry-Tatas breakup.

Apart from these famous cases, there are many which have never come into the limelight. Also, I have interacted with a lot of entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, and have myself been an entrepreneur. So, to say that I do not understand the dynamics of a business partnership or the challenges of being an entrepreneur would be a mistake.

In fact, not until recently, I was actively involved with my company when I decided to side-step, and the primary reason was the feeling of betrayal from my partners that I had started getting towards the fag end of my stint with my company.

The details, however, are less relevant. What I am going to share here are some insights which I developed as a result of my personal experience, as well as sharing the experiences of few others in my position.

What first needs to be understood is that no one plans a betrayal. However, that neither elevates their benevolence, nor does it absolve the backstabbers of their guilt. It just makes the betrayal circumstantial, and that’s important to understand.

At the same time, the apathy to choose the path of backstabbing your partner and the callousness leading to failure to evaluate alternatives, cannot go down as a bonafide choice and should raise an alarm.

Q: Is there an emerging a pattern in the behavioural dynamics of partners?

A: Yes, there is. We shall see below what the symptoms are of a potentially deceiving business partner.

Q: Are there are any symptoms to find out a potential deceiving business partner?

A: Suffice it to mention here that most of these symptoms are indicative and not conclusive, and anyone reading this article should use their own judgement before starting to doubt their partner. But, if you see the symptoms matching, do not take things lightly, and act in the direction as per what you feel is the right thing to do. I am now going to list down some of the behavioural symptoms which may ultimately lead to one partner(s) deceiving the other partner(s).

  1. Inorganic ownership of crucial resources: Resources like the company website, bank accounts etc. are very crucial, and hold the key to dictate the direction of the business. If these wrest with a partner whose intentions are not transparent and who has a history of previous break-ups with erstwhile partners, then in the event of a fallout, that partner will use it to their advantage, which can potentially not only harm other partners but the business and the customers as well.
  2. Inconsistency in the stands taken: If  you see one more of your partners constantly changing stands, leaving threads unfinished, and not being 100% transparent with others, or taking decisions without consultations (which can affect either your organisation or an affiliate organisation or some allies in the business), then that’s a warning from the Universe. This partner might be running their own agenda in the guise of being a partner in the business.
  3. Ownership as a sense of currency: It needs to be remembered that when you say that you “own a company”, it is a matter of pride in the society. How much the company is successful, and if so, how much is the contribution of that particular partner, are secondary concerns, but the very fact that one is an owner of the company can be very self-rewarding. Also, if you see your partner constantly bragging about the fact that they are the founder, and demand respect on account of it, be warned. Also, a person with not so clean intentions can use this to their advantage, which leads us to the next symptom.
  4. Unhealthy distribution of load: While it might be a matter of great pride to own a company, running it successfully and delivering value to your customers, investors, stakeholders and allies is no mean task. It requires hard-work, grit, determination, self-discipline, rigour and sacrifices at a personal level to be able to achieve it. Not everyone is capable of that. Plus, some people are naturally self-driven and motivated and thus, they tend to take up more work than others without any external coercion. If there’s an unhealthy distribution of load, and you have a partner who uses the ownership as a card of personal flamboyance, then it is quite possible that an unsung hero would run the show while a non-deserving partner would play conniving games and macabre manipulations to gain credit. You need to bring this to the notice of the core group, and take any corrective action needed to set the order of things right.
  5. Refraining from taking crucial responsibilities: The success of a business largely depends on the efficiency of its core and crucial functionalities. For example, if you have an advertising firm, then consistency in delivery of innovative ad concepts is your core functionality; if you have a consultancy firm, then consistency in providing the consultation to the customers dispassionately on a scale-able basis is your crucial functionality; if you are a product company, prolific coverage of your business use cases is your core functionality and so on and so forth. If you have a partner who is consistently refraining from owning up those responsibilities despite capabilities, it’s a sure shot warning alarm.
  6. Dilution of the core values of the business: Business is not just a transaction wherein there is an exchange of goods and/or services in lieu of a fee. Almost every business is based on certain core values of humanity and seeks to solve a set of problem(s) in a professional manner. If any business loses its essence of values, it loses itself, it ceases to exist. Many great businesses have fallen victim to this depressing state of core values. It is all the more detrimental if the blow comes from one of the partners. There can be many reasons, a personal grudge, a need to gain attention, a false sense of superiority, a delusional realization of one’s importance to the business, a vast overestimation of one’s presence, and many others, which can lead to a partner harming the business and/or partners by attempting to dilute the core values of the business and keeping interests of the self above those of the organization and the customers.
  7. Indulgence in espionage or teaming up with competitors: The tenacity to dilute the core values can also lead to the potentially deceiving partners either teaming up with competitors, leaking sensitive information, or undermining the credibility of their own partners by backbiting against them, plotting and scheming against them or even provoking them publicly to engage in a spat (verbal or intellectual), precipitating a cold war among the inner circles of the organisation.

These and many other symptoms are often indicative that a partner may end up deceiving or backstabbing you. Often hard-workers tend to ignore the symptoms because either they are too naive to doubt their partners, or are too engrossed in running the affairs of the company to notice it, or both. But, if ignored, the consequences can be disastrous and the price of inaction may be greater than the price of action.

How Do You Handle The Situation Once You Detect The Symptoms?

This is a tricky question, and the answer is highly subjective, for it depends on multiple factors like:

  1. If you are sensing the symptoms, how serious are they, and are your partner(s) displaying one or more of the symptoms?
  2. How serious is the harm? Has the harm already started, or do you sense it?
  3. Is there a possibility of resolution via a dialogue?
  4. How indispensable is the potentially deceiving partner?
  5. Can the company run without them?
  6. What are the costs or benefits of letting the partner go or retaining them?

All of the above questions are highly subjective and circumstantial, and it would be dishonest on my part to try and suggest a “one-size-fits-all” solution. But I must say, action must be taken. A message needs to be passed that a certain comeuppance may be coming up their path.

PS: There may be some more symptoms which I might have missed out on, or may not be in my knowledge. Please add them in the comments section to add value.