What I really want to dig into here is the logic and context within a statement such as “It’s just business” or “Don’t take it personal.”

I know you’ve heard this phrase used before… and specifically I’m interested in what this phrase tells you about both the person making such a statement and the institution that supports such a statement. Ideally, if you’re using this phrase currently, I hope after reading this you’ll reconsider using it moving forward.  If you’re hearing this phrase currently, I hope after reading this you’ll understand more about the people making such a statement and start to engage them on the topic to see if in fact they understand and truly mean what they’re saying.

Off the bat it should be known that I believe such a statement as “Don’t take it personal, it’s just business” is indicative of short term, short sighted and abusive behavior that at its core reflect a strategy and ethos that is directly in conflict with the natural law and the very survival of our species.

It all comes back to the law of attraction, or “What goes around comes around”, “Treat others as you would want to be treated”, or “Karma” as some may call it. To live one’s life without knowing or understanding that every action has an equal or greater reaction is to live in ignorance of one of the very simple scientific facts of life. I like to call its application to business and our personal life “Wake Theory” when explaining this as it puts things into some tangible visual context. For example, one’s life can be viewed as a massive ship pushing through the ocean building a wake behind it, and depending on one’s actions, as this ship slows down, the wake generated can either serve to lift you back up and push you forward… or come crashing down on your head, filling you with water, stopping your motion and driving you down. For some, the wake goes back pretty far and can hit you days, weeks, months or even years after the fact… or it can lift you up and drive you forward days, weeks, months or even years after the fact.

Thus, to ignore or write off the human component and reaction(s) to ones actions, regardless of where these actions take place (in the office or at home) is, again, IMHO, very short sighted.

As if simply saying “Don’t take it personal, it’s just business” somehow negates or softens the reality of the situation at hand. “Oh, ok, well, he/she says I shouldn’t take it personal, so I’ll just pretend the conversation never happened or isn’t as serious or insulting as it is.” I get that some people don’t take everything personal and the context of how the phrase is being used is paramount, but when I hear people say “It’s just business” or “Don’t take it personal” I’m always reminded of Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights, who repeatedly insults his boss and the owner of his racing team, but starts each insult with “With all due respect…”. Eventually the boss calls him out on it but Ricky Bobby simply doesn’t have the capacity to understand why what he’s saying is still insulting. Well folks, you tell me, do these statements sound any different to you?

  • “Your ugly” vs. “With all due respect, you’re ugly” vs. “Don’t take it personal, but you’re ugly”
  • “I think you’re a total slacker” vs. “With all due respect, I think you’re a total slacker” vs. “Don’t take it personal, but you’re a total slacker”
  • “A 2 year old could do a better job than you” vs. “With all due respect, a 2 year old could do a better job than you” vs. “Don’t take it personal, but a 2 year old could do a better job than you”

Is there a difference? Would hearing one of these over another make you feel any less insulted?

I think not.

So what’s the solution and point here? Well, understand that BUSINESS IS PERSONAL and every action has a reaction. Next time you’re in a position where you need to have a tough conversation with someone, or you feel the need to make a business decision that may put someone off or hurt someone in some way or another, take a step back, try and empathize with how the person you’re speaking with might receive what you’re about to tell them, and treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Also, understand that if someone ever does say something like “It’s just business” or “Don’t take it personal”, they’re more than likely coming from a place with little/no previous life experience that affords them the capacity to manage their relationships or job with compassion or empathy… much like Ricky Bobby. Understand that this is the type of person or people you’ll be needing to work with and deal with moving forward at your job and if you feel the management and owners of the company your working for follow a similar philosophy, then understand the chances of you getting screwed over, mismanaged and generally abused by your work place are extremely high. Those who tend to have no qualms with a statement like “It’s just business” or “Don’t take it personal” lack an understanding of “Karma,” “Wake Theory,” or “what goes around comes around” and very likely only view you as a disposable asset that can be replaced without thinking twice.

Personally, though I may not know you, I think your life can be spent in a far greater capacity than serving as a slave to people or an organization that lacks a longer term, more realistic and honest understanding of how the world works… Don’t you?  You should!

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