Nothing Personal . . . It’s Just Business

by Roger Reid

Shark dressed in business suit

Ever heard that?

Ever said it?

Unfortunately, having separate identities—one for business and another for a personal life— is fairly common in the winner-take-all world of industry and commerce. Many of us have experienced it so often we’ve come to expect at least some sleight-of-hand at the negotiating table, and as a result, approach every new business relationship with caution—if not outright suspicion.

At the risk of being called naive, I have to ask . . . How did it get this way?

When did greed and the need to win take priority over integrity, honesty, and truth?

Apparently, the desire to take advantage of others—at any price—has been with us for a very long time. The ancient biblical text, Deuteronomy, believed written by Moses in about 1400 BC, warned merchants against unscrupulous dealings . . .

Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land . . . ” (Deuteronomy 25: 13-15)

 Twenty-five-hundred years ago, the Chinese general and philosopher, Sun Tzu believed the best defense against any enemy—both in business and on the battlefield—was to know them as well as you know yourself, and instructed his students to  “Know your enemy by becoming your enemy.”

So here’s a simple list of imperatives for financial conquest—the CliffsNotes version of how to practice situational ethics for those determined to squeeze that last dollar out of every transaction—no matter what the cost.

Make victory your mantra. There’s no need to keep it a secret. Let others know you’re ruthless in business. Disclosing this warning in advance provides all the reason you need to take advantage of those less skilled, do the unethical, or maybe even skirt the ever-so-tempting gray area.

Never allow a guilty conscience to dissuade your quest for the prize. Calm your feelings of guilt with self-talk:  “I have a right to succeed. If it comes at the cost of others, that’s just the way it is. There’s only so much to go around, and I’ve got to make sure I get my fair share.”

Revel in the ego boost and false sense of power. You’ve learned the advantage of scorching the earth and taking no prisoners. If others disagree, appease them by saying, “I can go head-to-head with anyone in the business. But of course, I only pull out the big guns when it’s absolutely necessary.”

Rejoice in receiving the fear—not the respect—of others. Fear or respect. What’s the difference? Either way, they know not to mess with you.

Never forget you are superior to everyone around you, and therefore justified in “controlling” the success—even the lives—of others. You call it pre-emptive entitlement, an extremely useful tool to rationalize the use of “extreme measures” to get what you want. And why not? It’s been used by governments, dictators, and bullies for centuries to accomplish magnificent plans and glorious destinies—and mass extermination.

These five directives have boosted men into power, created fortunes, and enslaved millions. They’ve been the motivation for Ponzi schemes, mortgage fraud, and every bait-and-switch scam that left a buyer confused, angry, and broke.

And if we follow Sun Tzu’s advice, the only way to defeat deceit and corruption is to fight fire with fire, use the same tactics, and arm our business arsenal with identical weapons.

But what about collateral damage—especially to ourselves?

I believe the purpose of taking a peek inside our opponent’s playbook is not to adopt his unprincipled philosophy, but to put our own into perspective—to test our values and convictions, and make sure we haven’t strayed from the ideals and standards that define us.

The following suggestions come from successful men and women I’ve dealt with over the years and whose rules of fair play in business—and in life—have served to build their wealth as well as their character and personal integrity, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Strive to have a single identity—one you’ll never have to apologize for. Negotiate with fair, ethical intentions. Build your reputation as you build your fortune.

Look for honest, decent, truthful people to do business with. And when a mistake is made on your watch, do everything possible to make it right.

When circumstances reveal a client or vendor to be a liar, a cheat, or someone who takes his anger, frustrations, and disappointment out on others . . . cut them lose. You don’t need them in your life. It’s like filling the air with poison, and you deserve to breathe clean air.

Moral authority comes from following universal and timeless principles like honesty, integrity, treating people with respect.” –Stephen Covey