Ever heard of Otto Berman? He was the mafia accountant in the 1920’s who coined the phrase, “nothing personal, it’s just business.” No doubt many gangsters, both real and fictional have since capitalized on the sentiment — it’s a convenient way to justify all manner of cold-hearted acts in the name of profit. The entire Godfather franchise was basically built on it. Unfortunately, the resulting polarization of the business and the personal has worked its way into our modern culture and many real-life business practices.
Technically, the act of exchanging goods and services for money doesn’t require anything resembling a personal relationship to happen. Eye contact? Sure. Handshake? Why not. But unless we are actually gangsters constantly preparing for the double-cross, removing the personal from the business really doesn’t serve us well.
When business is done by real people, it’s personal. Let’s embrace this. The more I treat my business relationships like personal ones, the better my business becomes. Think about it. the same principles that help cultivate healthy personal relationships are the same ones that work well for enduring business relationships: Honesty. Empathy. Communication. Teamwork. It’s really about a general approach to everything. How do you talk to your barista? Is it just business? Or do you both take something away from the exchange, something personal? Could it be better? Even in the most fleeting, short-term example, everything is personal. Because you’re a person.
It’s easy to confuse the goal of building healthy business relationships with customer service. Customer service is important, but it doesn’t go far enough. Starbucks focuses a great deal of resources on customer service, and it has served them well. But the personal element, the one that makes you choose one store over another or waiting until a certain time of day to get your latte, is something they can’t teach. It’s a personal relationship.
Pointing out the difference between what’s business and what’s personal has its upside, and it’s definitely cool when Al Pacino says it, but in reality offers no benefit. Good business is personal. And it’s up to us to make it that way.
Focus on the personal side of every business relationship!