How Looking at Obstacles as Opportunities Improved My Partnership

A book has inspired me to take a different approach with my co-founder. Sometimes, the simplest things make the biggest difference.

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By Stephen Key

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Obstacles are a fact of life. They crop up in our personal and professional lives. If you are focused on moving your business forward, it may feel as if you are running into a new one around every corner.

A book my good friend Eric M. Ruiz recently recommended has me thinking about obstacles differently as of late though. I'm talking about Ryan Holiday's The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph.

It's a fantastic book. One I haven't stopped thinking about, actually. For me, the biggest takeaway has been why and how I should look at the problems that frustrate me as opportunities rather than obstacles. Part of the reason I'm such a fan of the book is because I was able to implement what I learned immediately.

Related: 3 Things Happy Marriages and Successful Business Partnerships Have in Common

Let me explain. My partner and I co-founded a business more than 13 years ago. We disagree regularly, which used to weigh heavily on me. I wondered if and how I could change our dynamic.

I approach our relationship quite differently now. I take the time to listen carefully before reacting. I no longer get so frustrated or upset. Mind you, I haven't begun avoiding conversations that could cause us stress. That doesn't work. Rather, a sort of reframing has occurred.

Reading the book inspired me to think deeply about the fact that we have different strengths. We both bring something to the table. My big picture discovery was the realization that any challenges he and I are having need to be discussed and worked out together. If we want to move our business forward, that's the only way. After all, we share the same goal, don't we? We're on the same team.

I realized that I needed to be thinking more about how I can help him do what he does better, and vice versa. Any problem he is experiencing is actually my problem too. It sounds simple, I know, but it's had a radical effect.

For example, I compile a list of goals I want our company to achieve each month. I assign both him and I tasks. In the past, I would become irritated when my partner didn't hold up his end of our commitment.

But this time around, instead of pointing out that he had failed to complete certain tasks, I simply created a new list for the following month that included the goals he hadn't yet achieved from the month prior.

The tasks went undone that month too.

Related: How This Olympian Built Up His Ability to Take On Adversity

In the past, I would have become angry. I would have wanted to vent.

But it seemed so clear to me now that he was struggling. Rather than get angry with him, I needed to find out why so I could help him. We discussed the issue calmly. It was on his mind, too. He had been feeling overwhelmed. So I explained that I was there for him -- that I wanted to help.

It was easily one of the best discussions we have ever had. It finally felt like we were communicating.

For the first time, I wasn't looking at his problems as if they were an obstacle I had to overcome.

In the past, I think we were both reluctant to bring up issues that we thought might cause us to quarrel. That wasn't working. I hope he has noticed that my attitude is changed -- that instead of being argumentative, I want to cooperate. I think it's already become easier for us to say how we really feel. We don't hold back.

Sometimes it is the simplest things in life that make the biggest difference.

So Ryan, thank you!

Related: The Two Biggest Money Problems That Can Ruin a Business Partnership

Stephen Key

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Co-Founder of inventRight; Author of One Simple Idea Series

Stephen Key is an inventor, IP strategist, author, speaker and co-founder of inventRight, LLC, a Glenbrook, Nevada-based company that helps inventors design, patent and license their ideas for new products.

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