What You Do Is Not Just Business. It’s Personal.

A Guest Post on Business Relationships by Rory Kelly Connor

How many times have you heard the adage, “It’s not personal; it’s just business!” over the last decade? Once or twice? Dozens? Hundreds?

Relationships Are Personal

As a VP at a worldwide public relations’ (PR) agency in New York, I watched twice as dozens of people were laid off in waves by the company. No warning. Not even a “thank you and goodbye.” Repeatedly, the exit stories detailed heartless conversations handled by cold Human Resources personnel who maintained that “It isn’t personal. It’s just business.” Unanimously, the employees stunned out of a job took it very personally. Because they are people. How else are they supposed to take it?

We have seen that same business standard used repeatedly to mask greed, get to goal, and pump up the bottom line over the last 10-20 years. It has been used as an excuse for all kinds of words and behaviors. For instance, Bernie Madoff never thought twice about defrauding thousands of people of billions of dollars of their hard-earned savings in the largest financial fraud in U.S. history. Banks across America never batted an eye as they moved forward using flawed and fraudulent foreclosure practices that led to hundreds of thousands of people losing their homes. Just business, right? The people affected by this standard most definitely don’t think so. It was very, very personal.

Beware That Which Is Taken Out of Context

I remember reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom a few years ago. The book was a New York Times’ bestseller being lauded by critics and readers alike at that time. I was enjoying the book until I reached “The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally.” As a Coach and PR expert (a master at strategically spinning a message), I could not help but notice what I perceived (and still perceive) as contextual flaws in the messaging throughout this chapter. People were reading this as if it was the way, the truth and the Light. Yet, taken out of context, it could be used as a fallback for every situation in which someone didn’t want to be held accountable for hurtful or malicious behavior. And this worried me.

Ruiz states that “Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves…What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds.” He goes on to state that “Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about ‘me.’”

These statements, which hold some truth in a certain context, made my ethical radar go up as they imply that what people do doesn’t affect you or shouldn’t affect you (which is a contextual flaw). What people do does affect us and affects us deeply at times.

Let’s consider, for instance, an entrepreneur who hands over into your safekeeping the planning around the launch of his dream business. He is personally entrusting your business – which is a person to person relationship with YOU – to create and execute a successful plan of action. He trusts your word that you know what you are doing and that you will keep the commitment to doing the job well. Then you drop the ball, don’t do the work, don’t make it happen, even though he has paid you the money. The launch fails, he is out of money, and his dream falls flat. I ask you: how is he not supposed to take that personally?

Ruiz goes on to state, “As you make a habit of not taking anything personally, you won’t need to place your trust in what others do or say. You will only need to trust yourself to make responsible choices…When you truly understand this, and refuse to take things personally, you can hardly be hurt by the careless comments or actions of others.”

Again, this premise is flawed as it so easily can be taken out of context. It implies that if you are victimized by someone, duped or cheated, having placed your trust in someone, it is your fault. You chose to trust them so you are the accountable party here. You didn’t make a “responsible” choice. Basically, you got what you deserve. While this may be true to a certain point, let’s be clear. Everybody in a relationship is independently accountable for what they choose to do. And in doing business, trust is crucial in building mutually-beneficial relationships, and becoming more and more the imperative for clients and customers worldwide.

It’s Your Business, So It Is Your Problem

“Whatever you think, whatever you feel, I know is your problem and not my problem,” states Ruiz. “It is the way you see the world. It is nothing personal, because you are dealing with yourself, not with me…if you get mad at me, I know you are dealing with yourself. I am the excuse for you to get mad. And you get mad because you are afraid, because you are dealing with fear.”

Can you imagine Madoff saying this to one of the people bilked out of their retirement money? “It’s not personal, right? It’s just business. Don’t be mad at me.” The really sad part is that people operate this way every day. They lie, they maneuver, and they finagle (what a fantastic word this is!), hiding behind the premise that getting to goal and making a buck no matter who you crush, demolish, rape or pillage is “just business.” If people trust you and you aren’t worthy of that trust, you laugh and say they are suckers. Or even better, you simply shrug and say, “It wasn’t personal. It was just business.”

Take it Personally

Recently, Seth Godin wrote a blog entitled "It's not business, it's personal." The entire blog consisted of just two sentences: “It's too easy to blame the organization and the system and the bottom line for decisions that a person would never be willing to take responsibility for. Whenever you can, work with people who take it personally.”

As I soon as I read it, I whooped out loud. I wanted to shout, “See, Don Miguel! People matter. Relationships work when they are built on trust. No one is an island. People are accountable for what they do and say, regardless of setting. And where people are concerned, it’s all personal!”

Personally, that is how I do business. I hold myself accountable for the quality of the work I deliver to my clients around the world. I walk the talk and always do my best. I honor the trust people place in me. And like Godin, I choose to work (and play) with people that appreciate that same level of integrity and who take it personally. Because personal it is.

Based in New York and New Jersey, and serving clients worldwide, Rory Kelly Connor is a Peak Potential Coach, Certified Life & Career Coach, and Global Solutions Strategic Advisor/Branding & PR  Expert. For more information, please visit www.canyouimaginelifecoaching.com.

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