Should you take your business personally?

Businesspeople smiling and shaking hands while a happy colleague looks on
“Don’t take it personally, it’s only business!”

A client recently said this to us. And it grated. We care about how we support our clients, and we do “take it personally”. Isn’t that a good thing?

Prompted by this common push-back, we considered the impact of taking your business personally. We then compared this to opting for a more detached approach. Is there an ideal stance? Let’s see.

Businesspeople smiling and shaking hands while a happy colleague looks on
A woman deep in thought

What does “personal” mean?

When people say: “Don’t take it personally”, they’re usually trying to help. They want to stop you associating a negative or contrasting comment with your own personality.

“Don’t take it personally, but I’d rather we did it another way.”

“Don’t take it personally, but I don’t agree with your opinion.”

“Don’t take it personally, but that was disgusting!”

It’s a phrase we’ve all heard since childhood. When we know our comments might offend someone (and we’re trying not to) we say it to encourage personal detachment. Not always easy.

In a business context, when we care about what we do, who we serve, and those working around us, we take it personally. We want everything to be right. We want everyone to be happy. And we want people to feel good about their contribution to the business.

Of course, there are degrees to taking it personally in business. We’ll cover this later.

Our main question is this: Are there advantages to taking business personally? Or should we strive to keep business activities and personal feelings separate at all costs?

The case for taking your business personally.

You spend a lot of your waking hours at work (or thinking about it). For many, it can be hard NOT to take it personally. Work is such a huge part of our life.

And we want to enjoy what we’re doing and feel we’re making a worthwhile contribution. We’re human, after all, not robots.

Many successful entrepreneurs take their business life personally. They might feel driven to help others overcome a hardship they experienced. Or to help people resolve a challenge holding them back.

That personal drive feeds into the relationships they have. It affects how they handle knockbacks and how deeply they care about what they do.

Successful entrepreneurs are inspirational. They’re people many of us would love to work with. We’re engaged in what they have to say. In fact, many businesses encourage leaders to learn from such dynamic role models.

Getting personal about your business creates an engaging and supportive environment. Building meaningful relationships with clients, understanding what matters to staff outside the office, and being your true self. This approach builds trust and transparency.

Taking business personally can shape your company culture too. Everyone feels personally valued – whether a customer, supplier, or employee. Collaboration is easier and people share the same goals.

This personally focused culture can lead to more effective decision-making. You take people and business objectives into account, so everyone buys into the vision and feels supported.

An entrepreneur happy in their work
A businessperson sitting on steps with their head in their hands - feeling they have failed

The case for NOT taking business personally.

For some, the “personal” scenario might feel a little unrealistic. Can our work lives and businesses blend so neatly with our personal needs and aspirations?

Many business decisions are tough. After all, the goal of any business is to make a profit and grow turnover. You must hire and fire staff. Suppliers must gain and lose contracts. Customers must accept price increases. You cannot keep everyone personally content all the time.

When people take feedback personally, it can impact how they feel about themselves. They’ve failed! They feel no good at what they do. By taking it too personally, misunderstanding how others see their work role, their performance can drop too. And like a ripple effect, this can then affect the attitude of others.

Surely, it’s better to maintain some level of detachment between business life and personal self. Without it, we’d all struggle to overcome the many hurdles we face.

Some believe detaching business activities from personal emotions leads to clearer decision-making. You remove personal bias by putting broader business goals before personal values. It can provide a more objective way of thinking.

Businesses have legal and regulatory priorities too. Not to mention expectations from senior stakeholders. Finding space for leaders to take it personally could hamper performance and expectations.

Considering ethics and personal values.

This doesn’t feel like an “either, or” black and white decision. Few can lean completely in one direction or the other. Given our human (personal) traits and the societies we’ve grown up in, many factors influence how personally we choose to take our business.

Take ethics and our personal values, for example.

Your personal ethics started shaping in your childhood. The people you interacted with, your education, and the experiences you had all influenced your values and beliefs today.

As for businesses, if they wish to be responsible for their actions, they must have ethics too. These concern how they do business and how they manage their role in society.

When you take your business personally, you’re more likely to pay attention to your ethics. Not just focusing on short-term gains, you’ll care about how you do business and the impact it has on everyone.

Without ethics, you risk making decisions that harm your relationships and business ecosystem. Taking a personal approach to business helps you develop an ethical standpoint on which to carry out business. You’ll have a “right” and “wrong” way to behave in various situations.

And there’s no doubt our personal values have a significant impact on how we show up at work. They even influence how we make many business decisions. It’s incredibly hard to detach from your own personal values.

Research suggests that leaders who reflect their personal values in business decisions inspire those around them. It can motivate employees and strengthen client relationships.

So, in an ideal world, all business goals should align with the company’s ethical responsibilities. And ideally, business ethics should align with the personal values their employees, suppliers, and customers have.

But it’s not always easy to achieve this. So, a balance must be found.

A compass showing right and wrong
A person balancing in the middle of a tightrope

Is the answer somewhere in the middle?

It might feel too idealistic to say you should take your business personally. And it might be impossible (maybe undesirable) to take an entirely detached approach.

Many have suggested a middle-ground approach:

“Make it personal, but don’t take it personally.”

When we lose ourselves in our work role, we can suffer elsewhere in life. We then don’t perform at our best. We’re also likely to feel less happy and more stressed.

So, “personal” can go too far.

But we must bring our real selves to work and all that we stand for. That’s how we can feel good about what we’re achieving.

You can easily forget your line manager or customer directs negative feedback at your role, not you personally. It’s a response to ‘work you’. Something you can think about and respond to constructively. Being able to keep this level of detachment is healthy for everyone’s welfare.

Personal relationships are crucial in business. And that means bringing ‘personal you’ into work. Caring about what you do at work promotes a more positive environment for everyone. It’s likely to be more productive too.

So, the middle-ground suggestion is to run a personal business that values the diverse characters involved in it. And to care about what you do. But don’t take it so personally that it hampers your wellbeing.

What can you take from our thoughts?

How personally you choose to take your business, and how personally you choose to run it is up to you. We hope our balanced discussion helps you consider the impact – both commercially and for everyone involved. It’s an important point to reflect on occasionally.

At Redox, we’re a tight-knit and supportive team. We know each other well and that helps us work well together. We also know our clients welcome the personal relationships we build with them.

Over time we deeply understand how their systems work and what they’re working to achieve.

Our business is personal to us, and we take huge pride in what we achieve for our clients. What matters to them matters to us.

Work with us and we’ll take everything you say personally. We’ll revel in your positive comments and grow from your constructive feedback. Just like a successful entrepreneur would.

Fancy a friendly chat? Please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

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