How To Constructively Challenge While Maintaining Great Relationships As A Business Partner

The business partner role is expanding in most functional professions, including Finance, IT, HR and Procurement.

Most in business partnering roles love the focus on adding more value and being part of shaping success.

Of course there’s the other side of business partnering.

This when you have to challenge, push back and say things that might not be received with open arms.

And of course making sure the relationship that you built up is not destroyed.

So how can you get the balance right between constructively challenge while still maintaining great relationships?

Agree expectations with those that you partner with at the outset

If you were a professional services provider external to the organisation you would have some form of letter are engagement.

This would have been developed after some discussions.

You can do the same as an internal business partner.

You probably don’t need the formality of a letter of engagement.

At the same time you can still sit down and agree how you will work and how differences in opinion will be resolved.

You can make sure that you have professional ethics and a duty of care.

Sometimes that might mean you have to deliver difficult messages or at least say things that might appear like you are being obstructive.

By doing this expectations are set from the outset.

Get better at asking questions

One of the potential traps (and I say this as accountant myself) is that you want to get action and agreement as quickly as possible.

After all you are likely to be really deadline driven.

The problem is there’s a risk that you don’t ask enough questions.

Alternatively you might not be asking the right kind of questions.

Using a mix of open and closed questions to get more insight, check your understanding and confirm things will help.

Get better at listening

We are taught to read, write and speak.

Training on listening is a lot less common.

I’m sure we have all seen examples of when people were talking and going round in circles.

This is classic level 1 listening.

If you can move to level 2 listening you will be really paying attention and checking understand.

At level 3 you will be at the gold standard of listening.  At this level you will be paying attention not just to what’s being said but also to the body language or non verbal clues.

The more you can listen at level 2 and 3, the greater the insights you will get.

As a result your responses will be so much better.

Request before you state your position

There will be times when you have asked great questions ad really listened.

But, you see things differently.

You have what’s called your own perspective or point of view.

Before you state your position make a request.

It might be something along the lines of

“I’ve heard lots of great ideas and thoughts on the next steps.  I see it differently.  Can I make a request to offer my perspectives and thoughts?”

The majority of times the response is likely to be, of course go ahead.

In truth there’s always a fine balance between constructively challenging and maintaining a great relationship.  Often it’s small changes in behaviour and approach that makes the difference.


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About the Author Duncan Brodie

Since 2006 I’ve worked with in excess of 8,000 accountants and professionals in workshops, seminars and one to one helping them land their next jobs and become better leaders, presenters and business partners. Before that I spent 25 years in accountancy climbing the career ladder from Payments Clerk to FD. I’m a CIMA Fellow, Certified Professional Coach and Team Coach Facilitator.

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