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Life's Big Questions: How Do I Choose a Work Partner?

Presidential candidates are privy to high-powered advice when it comes to choosing partners to share their tickets. But people still question whether Illinois Sen. Barack Obama did well in choosing Delaward Sen. Joseph Biden as his running mate; Arizona Sen. John McCain's choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has of course been downright controversial.

So how are the rest of us supposed to make good choices when it comes to picking people to partner with in business, on big projects, or in community work? Is settling on a partner anything like choosing a mate?

The answer to that Life's Big Question, according to folks I consulted, is that, yes, choosing a partner's a lot like choosing a mate. Only different. Here are some tips:

Beware the limerence: Robert Hartford, a D.C.-based psychotherapist who specializes in executive development and organizational coaching, says that, in romance and in work relationships, there's a golden period known as the "limerence" when everything about the potential partner seems terrific. "When you first meet, there's a lot of chemistry. You might mistake that for [the other person's] being really good partner material. But you can be a little bit blinded by that phase. The real partnership doesn't begin until you start to work and negotiate differences."

"In that phase, everybody seems capable. The goal is to ride it as long as you can, but just don't mistake it for reality. And don't make any major decisions" until the limerence has worn off, Hartford cautions.

Know the person you're "sleeping with": Martin Lehman, a volunteer with SCORE (a nationwide volunteer organization affiliated with the U.S. Small Business Administration in which former businesspeople offer counseling to those running small businesses) in New York City and a former business owner, has had plenty of experience working with a partner--not all of it good. He blames his failed partnership (in which he says it turned out his business partner was stealing from the company) in part on his not having asked the right questions before entering the relationship. "You have to be very careful and ask lots of questions," Lehman says. "Who is [this person?] How well do you know him? Have you checked out his background? Do you have a formal agreement with him?" Above all, Lehman says, going into business with someone requires trust. "You're going to be leaving your pocketbook on the counter," he says. "Is it going to be there when you get back?"

Let differences be strengths: Tony Shure, who with long-time friend Colin McCabe started the Chop't salad restaurant group, notes that while he and McCabe "are very different," those differences complement each other in a business setting. As for going into business with a friend, he says, "We had an agreement beforehand that the friendship was first and foremost, that it would survive the ups and downs of business. Whatever happens happens there, we're going to be friends afterward."

So is choosing a business partner really like selecting a spouse? "No way," Shure says. "There are totally different criteria. I chose my wife for all different reasons" than the ones that led him to chose McCabe as his business partner. For one, he says, "She's way better looking than Colin."

Surely many of you readers have been through this experience and can probably teach us all a thing or two about picking a partner. Let's hear from you.

While you're at it, The Checkup would like to know which of Life's Big Questions you'd like to have answered here. E-mail your ideas to

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  September 3, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Life's Big Questions  
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It does not matter how well you think you know someone even a best friend or relative. NEVER enter into a partnership unless everything is in writing including the job responsibilities and expectations required.

Posted by: Jacob | September 3, 2008 5:03 PM | Report abuse

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