What “It’s Not Personal, It’s Business” Really Means

Last fall, I (along with what felt like half of the Internet) was riveted by the saga that was playing out on The Bert Show… behind the scenes, on the airwaves, and on social media. After 14 years, Executive Producer and Co-host, Jeff Dauler abruptly resigned, seemingly leaving his co-workers completely dumbfounded, blindsided, and some would even say betrayed. Bert Weiss, Jeff’s friend and colleague for years, took it particularly hard, and in response to his initial Facebook status, there were countless comments about how he just needed to suck it up and understand that it wasn’t personal, it was business.

After giving the situation a little time, Bert finally responded, and I wholeheartedly agree with his thinking. 100%. I almost don’t even have to finish writing my own thoughts about it. I could essentially copy and paste from Bert’s response:

“It isn’t personal. It’s just business.” This is a phrase I admit I struggle with. Badly. I have always had a difficult time separating the two.”

“I guess I want to invest emotionally in the people I go through most of my day with. I do what almost every management book out there tells you not to do…I’m friends with my colleagues.”

“Some of you are going to say, ‘It’s business. Suck it up. Stop taking it so personally. Move on.’ And you’re right. But I’ve defiantly decided not to change in this area. This is who I am. So, screw it. I’ll get hurt from time to time.”

“It’s not personal, it’s business.” The phrase has never sat well with me. I’ve been hurt by colleagues whom I considered friends…close friends, and I was fed that line with such callous each time. Having gotten wind within the last couple of months of a big “professional” decision by a previous co-worker, and knowing how twisted the entire situation really is beneath the surface, I’m once again grappling with this widely accepted mantra. I felt vindicated in 2013, while watching Season 9 of Grey’s Anatomy. I felt like everything I was feeling at the time was being articulated in a much better way than I was able to.

“Bailey is having none of it. She’s upset that he didn’t stand up for her like she’s always done for him in the past. She feels he’s all about the hospital. Bailey says, ‘You are not who I thought you were’.”

I thought about using those episodes to illustrate my point to those who couldn’t understand my perspective, but it wasn’t worth it.

I’ve been accused of not being able to separate personal and business matters, but it was always by the people who hurt me and didn’t want to own it. “It has nothing to do with our friendship! It’s WORK!” were words once yelled at me. It was said with such conviction, like I was supposed to fully understand and excuse it based on those words, yet I still wonder how “It’s WORK!” justifies betrayal.

Case in point: I was recently faced with somewhat of a dilemma. A very close friend of mine referred me to a client for a project more than a year ago. She also works as a freelancer, and she receives a percentage from my work for these jobs. After a couple of projects, for whatever reason, that client contacted me independently, wanting me to work on another project. This is business. My family has bills to pay, but guess what. So does my friend’s. I could have easily taken the job and never said a word to her. After all, “it’s not personal, it’s business,” right? But my first instinct was to contact her, and ask if she was ok with it (which she was). I don’t think that makes me less of a savvy or successful business person, and it was ultimately the best move for our friendship.

For me, it all boils down to humanity. If you have a heart of any kind, it is personal…at least on some level. How can you work alongside another human being for years, share personal memories, call that person a FRIEND, then nonchalantly make such a declaration following a hurtful action on your part?

“It’s not personal, it’s business.”

What that statement really means is, “I’m benefiting from this, you are not, and I don’t want you to make me feel bad about it. I’m on top, my actions don’t negatively affect me in any way, so I want you to get over it and be happy like I am.”

Yes, I’m sensitive (that was once hurled at me as a criticism…same person). People mean something to me. For that, I make no apologies. But I can happily say that having lived through experiences with people who live every part of their lives like a business deal, seeking only to benefit themselves with no regard for who gets hurt in the process, I’ve developed a thicker skin. I can now successfully keep myself from crying when it counts. But I still value relationships, business and personal, and I still believe they can co-exist.

“‘It isn’t personal. It’s just business.’ This is a phrase I admit I struggle with. Badly. I have always had a difficult time separating the two.” -Bert Weiss

And that doesn’t make you unprofessional. It makes you human.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.