The Problem With ‘Don’t Take It Personally, It’s Business’

The Problem With ‘Don’t Take It Personally, It’s Business’

The traditional advice to “not take it personally, it’s business” can be kind of problematic. It suggests you should just chalk up your experience to the perils of professionalism, rather than process or learn anything from it so you can grow.

Photo by Thomas Angermann.

Over at Harvard Business Review, Duncan Coombe discusses this concept in terms of industry leaders. He writes:

“Not taking it personally” lies at the heart of many corporate ethics scandals, from embezzling and accounting fraud to issues of worker safety and environmental protection. It’s when executives and teams adopt the mindless notion of ‘it’s not personal, it’s business’ that they absolve themselves of their responsibilities as social actors, custodians of the planet, and guardians of the well-being of their employees, customers, and communities…For these reasons and more, it seems clear to me that if we are to fulfil our responsibilities and obligations as executives — and our potential as leaders — we need to take things deeply personally. Put simply, a dehumanized and depersonalized workforce is more likely to treat its multiple stakeholders poorly.

I think this can apply to anyone in the workforce, though. When everything is chalked up to “just business”, it’s easy to lose sight of your spirit or passion. Instead of thinking about the experience and how it affects you, your career becomes dehumanized and depersonalized, as Coombe puts it.

At the same time, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t maintain boundaries. Really, it’s about balance. You don’t want work to become so personal that it defines you completely, but you also don’t want to let “it’s business” hold you back.

For more on this concept, head to the post at the link below.

“Don’t Take It Personally” Is Terrible Work Advice [HBR]


  • Edward Thurlow was quoted over 150 years ago, “Corporations have neither bodies to be punished, nor souls to be condemned; they therefore do as they like”. This is why people and their consciences matter. A corporation is a legal fiction. In reality it’s individuals or groups of individuals. Those people are responsible for what their corporation does because for all practical purposes (decision making, actions taken, investments or divestments made) they ARE the corporation.

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