Tips for Cofounder Success // Part IV: Fostering Positivity



Now that you've got down some basic self awareness and communication/conflict management skills, it's time to start building up the positivity between you and your cofounder(s). This may sound a bit "soft" or even extraneous to those of you who are problem-solvers, but as a mental health professional, I can promise you that fostering the ability to notice, acknowledge, and maintain positive vibes, communication, strengths, and efforts creates real change within and between individuals. Studies have repeatedly shown the measurable effects of positive thinking and focus on gratitude for depression & anxiety, and couples counselors have long known the strengthening effects of validation for relationships of all kinds.

So what do I actually mean by this whole "positivity" thing? The goal: building trust, respect, and transparency between you and your cofounders. The method: start by increasing both your awareness and acknowledgement of one another's strengths and contributions to the company and the relationship.

I. Increase Awareness:

Start by actually noticing more. Our brains have a negativity bias, which basically means we are neurologically wired to overestimate threats and underestimate opportunities and resources. This bias is essential from an evolutionary perspective for avoiding danger and staying alive. But it can be extremely unhelpful and even detrimental to relationships and productivity.

You need to actively negate the negativity by choosing to focus on the positive. Notice the strengths in your cofounders, notice their hard work, their dedication, their passion, their efforts. Yes, they have flaws, as do you. But there is a reason you chose to work with them in the first place. Choose to notice those reasons. In fact, write them down, if you're really committed to improving your team. Make a list of everything you appreciate in them, everything they teach you, anything you can think of that is a positive trait, action, or aspect of them. (And while you're at it, do this for yourself as well.) You could even start a ritual of daily or weekly journaling of positive events and actions, or a gratitude journal related to the company. This process of focusing your own attention on positive traits in your team will begin the process of building trust and openness with them. But it's only the first step. Next comes the even more crucial part:

II. Sharing Validation and Acknowledgement:

Here's the part that will feel kind of mushy, like you should be holding hands with a candle between you and soft music in the background. Not something many business-types are accustomed to, and certainly not easy to do at first, considering the level of vulnerability and authenticity it takes. But I'm telling you, it's huge.

Sit with your cofounder. Look them in the eye. And tell them. Tell them all that you see, all that you notice, all that you appreciate. Of course, this should happen daily in small moments of recognition and validation, (seriously, say "great job" and "thanks for taking care of that," every now and then, and mean it,) but I'm talking about taking a chunk of time to really sum everything up for them, in a way you may never have done before. Hopefully they are also following this blog and can do the same for you, and you can even ask them to do so in advance. A conversation like this will have very real effects on your relationship, and on your business. I'd even suggest making it a part of your company culture and ritualizing this strength-based conversation by making it a monthly occurrence (perhaps coupled with the darker side of things...speaking of which:)

Of course, not everything is peaches and cream, and you have very legitimate fears, concerns, and maybe even resentments towards your cofounder as well. Don't worry, the time for that will come. But before you get to all that dark stuff, it's important to build a foundation of validation and trust. You both need to feel recognized and seen before you can be willing and able to handle hearing criticism.

Next Up: All that dark stuff


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c/o Chicago Center for Relationship Counseling

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