"It's not personal. It's just business."

To understand why that might be the greatest lie in commerce since "the check is in the mail," think back to a scene you've seen a thousand times in the movies or on TV.

Two people have been working on a possible deal. Our hero desperately needs the agreement to save the farm; stave off bankruptcy; to get funding for his BIG IDEA (which will allow him to win the girl), and he thinks he has convinced the other person--usually someone who already has a lot of money and/or power--to agree to terms.

Then, at the last minute, there is a phone call, a face-to-face meeting, a telegram, an e-mail, or a text that says, "The deal is off/I've changed my mind/I got a better offer."

No matter what form the communication takes, the message always ends the same way: "It's nothing personal. It's just business."

Every single time that scene plays out, you are rooting for--and ultimately feel bad for--the person who received the "it's just business" message. And that's true whether you are running a nonprofit or are the most flinty-eyed CPA who ever lived. No one watching It's a Wonderful Life roots for the hard-hearted Mr. Potter.

On the surface, this makes no sense. Shouldn't we identify with the person who gets the best deal, the one who comes out ahead?

Ah, you say. But we are talking about a movie or a television show. The people who create entertainment know how to play on our emotions. So, it is not surprising that we are rooting for the underdog. It's a standard plot device. And it is a standard plot device because it is so effective.

All that is true.

But it's a funny thing. For most of us, real life is a whole lot like reel life, at least in this regard: When people play the it's-nothing-personal-it's-just-business card with us we always feel worse than we should by any objective measure.

Why? Because we have invested time and probably a lot of emotion in the deal that has fallen apart. When we analyze the situation in retrospect, we see that we believed there was some sort of relationship, a connection with the person we were negotiating with that we thought went beyond business. When we find out there was no such connection, we feel disappointed, if not betrayed.

There is a big payoff from thinking differently

When I realized that everything is personal--or could be--I also understood that it can be a good thing.

When you keep everyone at arm's length during a business transaction, or a transaction of any kind for that matter, you make it easier for them to dismiss out of hand your ideas and also make it easier to say no.

When the relationship is personal--and personal doesn't have to go beyond sincerely asking about how their career is going or what their kids are up to--you will receive a bit more consideration. No, it doesn't guarantee the sale or that they will accept your idea, but it does almost always guarantee you will get a fair hearing.

And if you get shot down, or the client insists you do something that you rather not, there is less resentment.

There is one more benefit. It makes your interactions a little bit more pleasant. I am in favor of all that.

The takeaway: Work is personal, if you do it correctly.

 

Published on: Nov 30, 2014