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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Stop Politicizing Your Business Relationships

Politics is already bad enough without politicizing your lunch choices.

You see the whole world as full of evil companies or good companies. Pepsi is a heartless, insensitive corporation for that ad it ran that time. Apple is a good guy for standing up to the FBI that one time.

Every business decision of the companies in your world is made either to advance your values or screw you over. Comcast is out to get you and steal your money because they have a bad product. Zappos cares about you and wants the best for its users because it has good customer service.

Businesses cannot force anyone to do anything. You judge businesses more on their ideological associations than on their revealed value and usefulness. That craft beer company must be leftist because it supports environmentally-friendly brewing practices. Budweiser is better because it is the red-blooded American beer.

This is the worldview of the person who has only ever been a consumer, and it is unfortunately how most people relate to companies.

Neither Pitchforks nor Halos

If you relate to businesses primarily as political entities, I have reason to doubt you’ve ever spent time making any kind of decisions for a business. The reality of business is actually much simpler – and much more complex.

Most people within businesses do not have the luxury of time or the resources it takes to think in terms of good vs. evil. Being a greedy evildoer or an angelic saint? There’s no time.

The machinations which people imagine to be happening in corporate boardrooms are mostly fantasy. And – this is key – businesses as such cannot force anyone to do anything, whether it’s buying a product or taking a job.

Unless a company has a very large budget, it’s not going to have the resources to be demonic or angelic. You see, most companies, especially small to medium-sized ones, are going to be far more concerned with making payroll and making mundane business improvements and checking inventory and talking to curious and upset customers and paying suppliers and managing employees and trying to keep a complex business machine running for another week.

To that end, the decision-makers within a company have to make every choice with the goal in mind of creating more value while consuming less. That’s the only way the game of business continues, unless the company is cheating at the game (subsidies, tariffs, anti-competitive regulation, bailouts being prime examples) – but that’s another story.

There may be other reasons people within a business might want to create wealth, but unless a company has a very large operating budget, it’s not going to have the time or resources to be demonic or angelic, or to give much thought to motives besides 1) keep operating and 2) create wealth.

Seriously, try it. Business is hard. A lot of times the most unpopular decisions businesses make – the ones consumers assume were maliciously engineered from the top – were just painful operational necessities for the people inside the business. There’s an empathy gap between both parties. I highly recommend gaining this insight first-hand.

Reality Check

It’s such a relief to realize that you don’t have to split everything in life – including the businesses you deal with – down the middle ideologically. It’s such a relief to know that businesses have the same, if not more and more complex, challenges than you have in your daily life as an employee, family person, and friend.

Politics is already bad enough. It would be worse for ideological conflicts to start determining what bread we buy.

It’s a relief to know that they’re made of people with complex moral and religious and political beliefs who may not all agree. It’s a relief to know that the people you buy from and trade with are not a monolith. You learn to show some grace. You learn to deal with businesses as businesses, and not as political entities.

Politics is already bad enough. It would be worse for ideological conflicts to start determining what bread we buy, what brand of detergent washes our clothes, what we feed our children. That’s politics going too far – something it has a tendency to do.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course, it matters that businesses act ethically, especially in a world that is so full of political corruption. Businesses, like any group of people, can do good things and bad things. There are businesses with good motives and bad motives. There are many businesses which will actively work to gain political powers and favors, and some outrage at that is justified. I’m simply suggesting that we’ve projected far more political ideology onto most businesses than reality will bear.

More often than not, the real ethical decisions for businesses don’t lie in the politicized dichotomies we try to impose on businesses: either conservative or liberal, either altruistic or self-serving, either pro-minimum wage or anti-worker, either libertarian or authoritarian, either Obama or Trump.

Reality is more complicated. And businesses are at their best and doing their best when they sell to everyone, not ideological teams. They – unlike politicians – can generally make more wealth when they sell to all sides with a value proposition that means something for as many people as possible.

Products, not Politics

Let’s get back to doing business instead of picking sides. Let good products and services speak for themselves. Figure out what you think and act on your values in your buying decisions, but leave bickering and side-picking and pervasive ideologies to the talk radio hosts and the politicians. Be civil to the people you buy from. If you are a business or business owner, be civil to the people you sell to, and stop using politics as a tool yourself.

We merchants and buyers have to get to know each other. When we do, we won’t care so much what opinions we hold, because we won’t care to force those opinions on each other. We won’t use the methods of politics. We’ll use the methods of business. We’ll care a heck of a lot more about striking a good trade.

Reprinted from James Walpole.

  • James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, intellectual explorer, and perpetual apprentice. He is an alumnus of Praxis and a FEE Eugene S. Thorpe Fellow. He writes regularly at