These 4 Little Words are the Key to a Happy Business Partnership

When I set out to start a business partnership , I had no idea what I was doing. I vaguely realized that I was signing up to spend the rest of my life with someone, if things went well, and that entering into a platonic marriage was kind of a big deal. (Said the lawyer, of all people.) So I did what any sitcom character would do, and I asked my friends for some guidance over brunch.

I didn’t ask just any friends though, I asked several friends who also happened to be business partners and their company was one of my favorite brands. These guys appeared to have it all - a thriving business, an amazing quality of life, and they seemed to really enjoy being around each other. I asked them what their secret was and, without hesitation, they answered: the 4 A’s. (This is the part where I leaned in eagerly.)

“It’s simple,” they said. “Once a week, we sit down together and go through the following:

  • Affirm
  • Apologize
  • Ask
  • [Platonic, Workplace-Appropriate] Affection

It’s the glue to our partnership, try it.”  And I did. In fact, since day one,  Sam and I have practiced the 4 A’s.

Honestly, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be in a partnership if it weren’t for this sacred ritual.

For example - one day, about a year into working together, we were getting new cell phones at Best Buy and got into a disagreement about the contract. This led to a meltdown that would make The Real Housewives look like Little House on the Prairie. We were nearing a platonic partnership divorce all because of some fine print. As we were handling damage control, we realized we had skipped out on our 4A’s for a few weeks. Lesson learned.


Let’s unpack these magical A’s a little bit:


If there could only be one A, this would be it. Affirmations are important for both partners. Partnership is a give and take. Often, in our experience, one partner might be feeling resentful from carrying the load, while the other partner feels insecure about their contributions, and pissed that no one notices when they clean the Keurig.  Affirmation diffuses these feelings.

We come out feeling recognized and valued.

And the affirmations are always specific because they happen every week. This feels much more meaningful and thoughtful than broad, sweeping affirmations. For instance,“Thanks for going above and beyond in that client consultation on Wednesday” as opposed to “Thanks for always being chill, etc.” We feel truly acknowledged for our unique efforts.


We’ve noticed this A tends to be more beneficial for the apologizer than the person receiving the apology. The receiving partner is usually like, “Oh, that wasn’t that big of a deal.” And the apologizing partner is like, “Whew! I feel so much lighter after getting that off my chest. I can make eye contact with you again.” Added bonus: knowing this A is coming keeps you on your toes a bit more throughout the week.


Ask is a way to politely make a request of your partner or, ahem, give critical feedback. As someone who is sensitive to criticism, I can say that I never freak out when Sam makes an ask of me during 4 A’s. In fact, I usually feel grateful because he cares enough about me to have that hard conversation or be vulnerable, and trust me enough to ask for what he needs.

Critical feedback is diffused when delivered this way.

Because you’ve already tackled the Affirm and Apologize steps, your partner will be much more receptive to what you have to say. BOOM. Brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, that we often wait for our 4A’s session to make an “ask” of the other partner. It goes over much more smoothly than, say, unsolicited feedback given in Best Buy. Just saying.


My friends did a fist bump. Sam and I do a secret handshake. This is the glue that solidifies our bond and we do it with glee after each 4A’s sesh. In fact, we do it after every major win or moment of gratitude.

If you practice this simple, straightforward ritual, I promise your partnership will feel more focused, yet laid back, and ultimately more satisfying. We’ve shared it with many friends and colleagues over the years and some have even applied it to their personal relationships. I recently had the chance to ask one of my friends where they got the idea. He said they borrowed the idea from marriage counseling. Go figure.

Photos by: Karen Marie Co.

Emily Wilkinson

Founder at wilkmazz

Emily is a lawyer, poet, and activist who currently serves as managing partner at wilkmazz, a one-stop legal shop for small businesses, non-profits, and artists.