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tinyfaery's avatar

It's not personal, it's just business. WTF does this mean?

Asked by tinyfaery (42827points) October 4th, 2010

I hear this a lot, but it makes no sense to me. How is anything anyone does not personal? Every choice we make is personal. Can people really compartmentalize their psyches so much that they really believe what they do for money has no bearing on who they are as a person? If someone does something, for instance kill someone, as a part of their job, how does that not make them personally accountable? I don’t get it.

I have considered the idea that if one does something to protect others from harm, for money, that might be a justifiable reason to do what otherwise someone would never do. But, I still can’t see how one who really believes that killing is wrong would take a job where they might have to kill another human being.

Murder of course is an extreme example. How about just kicking people out of their houses or denying someone their insurance benefits because the company you work for is a “boil on the butt of humanity”?

Please explain. And would the world be a better place if the idea that we can screw as many people as we like as long as it’s our job to do so did not exist?

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25 Answers

YellowsubmarineOnfluther's avatar

Your adding way to much to the math equation, that saying is just a scapegoat to be an arsehole

mrentropy's avatar

Right. Something horrible can happen to you, but you shouldn’t be upset about it because it didn’t happen because someone was mad at you or hated you.

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Blackberry's avatar

I think the typical situation is having to fire someone you may know or even be friends with. I don’t know if I could do something like this which is why I just make a good worker and not a leader lol. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do?

Mikewlf337's avatar

It’s not hard to figure it out. It’s basically an excuse to be a complete a$$hole and screw up peoples lives for ones own gain.

zophu's avatar

“We don’t hate you, we just believe without a doubt that you are completely expendable.”

This is something people can do when their determination belongs to one or more greater authorities. Otherwise, they would be forced to observe the humanity of the person or people subject to their actions. They use their lack of this observation as the justification for their actions that can cause suffering or death.

Judi's avatar

I just read Rediscovering Values And Jim Wallis explains it (Much better than me) like the markets and money are a form of idol worship with the pundits and the wall street giants being the high priests. Anything done in the name of profit is good, and anyone who would propose that the free market might not be the best possible way to solve a problem is committing blasphemy. They must be socialist or worse, communist.
It’s pretty sad when when the interest of money is so overtly higher than the interest of people. The US used to be the champion of the under dog, now it seems we have devolved back to survival of the fittest.

zenvelo's avatar

That’s for when people prize making money over the personal relationship they’ have with someone. People never say that, or need to say that, to people they don’t have a relationship with or don’t know.

Cruiser's avatar

This perfect world you seek does exist but only on the weekends when the vast majority of the world is off work and praying to theirs Gods and honoring the moral code of good conduct. Come Monday the gloves are off and it is dog eat dog…survival of the fittest…give me MINE! 2 days of good vs 5 days of grab fest seems like a no win situation to me…

Kardamom's avatar

You’re right “it’s just business” is a horrible line and it is used so that people can justify their horrible decisions and live with themselves, they try to make it seem like it has nothing to do with them. It is all about the money.

jca's avatar

to address an example you gave in your question, @tinyfaery, “how bout kicking people out of their houses.” I can think of some instances where someone would be kicking a tenant out of their apartment, like if the tenant had not paid rent for a long time. Yes, there are times when someone may have lost their job and be having a bad streak of luck, but then the landlord should be expected to carry them? what about the landlord who then has to pay his own mortgage, and needs that rent in order to do so? or what if the tenant has been spending all his money drugging or gambling, and now can’t pay rent? how long is the landlord supposed to go without his payment? so there might be an example of “it’s not personal, it’s business.” it’s not saying the landlord does not like the tenant, but he literally has to do what he has to for his own sake.

here’s another example – my boss and i are friendly, she is very good to me. however I know that if i start not doing my job, and she gets pressure from her boss, I would be disciplined and i would know not to take it personally, because it would be “just business.” it would not be personal, meaning it would not be about (boss) + (me), it would be about our respective roles in the Department, and what is expected of us as workers.

If i had a friend of mine do some work for me (this is why i try to keep personal and business relationships apart) and they did not fulfill their obligations, then i would not be able to continue to employ them, because i would need to get the job done and not pay out for something that is still undone. Therefore, not personal, meaning not against my friend, but it would be business (again, i don’t have my friends work for me for that reason).

A lot of the answers here stated very nasty things about people being horrible and needing to live with themselves, and it’s all about the money, but there are times when you know it would not be personal, it would be business.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

This is coming from personal experience. I worked for the same company for 24 years. In that time, my job was eliminated ~6 times as the economy fluctuated or the company went through structural changes. While no one said the exact words, “It’s not personal; it’s just business”, the message was clearly implied. And they were right; it was a business decision. Three of those managers recruited me for future jobs; maybe that is what helped me understand that it wasn’t personal.

For-profit companies are out to make money. They need to tighten the belt when the times get rough, just like individuals do in their home life. I’ve used the same insurance agent for almost 20 years. About a year ago, I changed companies in order to save some money. It wasn’t a personal decision, as the guy would send out a birthday card every year. It was purely for the sake of saving money. I sort of miss the card and not having a familiar rep who I know by name, but the savings was a business decision.

As for “kicking people out of their houses”, I have to agree with @jca . If people sign an agreement to pay their debts and fail to do so, most companies are willing to work with a person to a certain degree. If they continue to fail, then that is when the business side has to kick in. Trust me; very few people, if any, enjoy being in that role. It feels miserable to require that someone move on, or worse yet, go to jail.

One final note: when I read your description, it reminded me of a poem by Thomas Hardy called, The Man He Killed. The first time I read it, it made me think of my father who fought in WWII. I don’t know if he ever read it, but I know it represents his sentiments about being in a situation where he was killing German soldiers because “it was just business.”

tinyfaery's avatar

@jca I can get that. But those situations are not really what I was referring to. Sheriffs are usually the ones to actually remove people from their shelters.

jca's avatar

@tinyfaery : i re-read your examples, and you talk about the examples i cited, and you talk about killing, but then you say you know killing is an extreme example. in your recent answer, you say “those situations are not really what i was referring to.” so then i am lost as to what you really are referring to.

i gave the example of a landlord, and you said sheriffs usually are the ones to actually remove people from their shelters. my “landlord” example was pre-sheriff. are we not understanding each other? do you have other examples that may support your question?

bigjay's avatar

this reminds me of another similiar phrase in common usage; when people say ‘no offense’ or ‘with all due respect’, what they really mean is ‘go [gouda] yourself’.

iamthemob's avatar

I think the statement is beneficial if it’s not coming from a third party. It’s useful as an internalized mantra when someone criticizes you at work – sometimes, it’s hard to remember that they’re doing their job, and not just trying to be an asshole to you. Of course, sometimes it’s both – and in those situations, the third party will try to get themselves off with this. ;-)

the100thmonkey's avatar

I fired someone in April this year because they were manifestly unable to appear for work at the time their contract stipulated they do so.

After five verbal warnings and finally a written warning, they proceeded to come in late three days later.

It wasn’t personal – you don’t know them, so there’s no reason for me to lie when I say that personally I had a great deal of time for them. It was just business, Their behavior directly affected customers, and their inability to come to work on time therefore directly affected my business’ ability to make money. Money which ultimately put food on my table and a roof over my family’s heads.

If you work for me and behave in such a way as to affect my ability to carry out my responsibilities as a manager, husband and father, I will draw a line in the sand. Cross it, and it’s not personal – it’s just business.

YARNLADY's avatar

It is a matter of what we chose to direct our energy to. Why did you let 20,000 people starve to death yesterday, while you ate your fill? It wasn’t personal, I’m sure.

MissAnthrope's avatar

I always took it to mean I’m doing this impartially, without regard to any feelings I have toward you. Which I further interpret to mean I may harbor negative/positive feelings toward you, but I didn’t allow that to affect my decision.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Anyone who uses a phrase like that is trying to justify their refusal to use ethical behavior.

rooeytoo's avatar

I am with @jca and @Pied_Pfeffer on this one. The legal procedure to evict a tenant is long, arduous and expensive so when a landlord proceeds with one, it is business. He has bills to pay and other considerations. I would wager very few enjoy evicting, firing or otherwise hurting others in such fashion but it is self preservation more than survival of the fittest.

With regard to the survival of the fittest theory, I always looked upon it as survival of those who work the hardest. Of course there are some exceptions but it is usually the way it is and I believe should be.

CaptainHarley's avatar


You are correct, as far as you go, but to use such a phrase to justify one’s actions is, in my opinion, reprehensible.

robmandu's avatar

(ugh, should’ve read @jca‘s quip first… deleting main body…)

Indeed, the corollary to this concept is to NEVER DO BUSINESS WITH FRIENDS OR FAMILY, precisely because it’s too easy to be swayed by the personal relationship. Don’t sell them your car, rent them your house, or ever, ever loan them any money.

(you can give family members money, though)

Judi's avatar

I am a landlord (I hate that word, I sometimes say “landservant,”)
I have evicted people before, and often it was “personal.” they broke their promises to pay the rent or abide by the rules.
The difference is, that I will try to negotiate payment arrangements if the issue is temporary and there seems to be a reasonable plan that can work, or I will work with them to move and avoid an eviction on their record. I acknowledge that a persons home is VERY personal and deal with people in a compassionate way.

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