STOP! HALT! Keep Quiet … or Lose Business

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Last week two of my friends invited me to participate with them in a local March for Our Lives event being held Saturday.

If you are tuned into the news and politics of today, you know that marches were held to support gun control to keep people, especially our children, safe from being victims of mass murderers. Hundreds of thousands of individuals marched on Washington, DC, and in hundreds of other cities to bring attention to this issue.

To my friends’ invitation, I replied no. I couldn’t / wouldn’t go. But maybe not for the reasons you might think.

It’s not that I don’t believe in peaceful protests – because I do. I remember being inspired by the civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s. I participated in peaceful protests over the VietNam War when I was in college. I even (metaphorically) burned my bra!

But no, I did not attend the March for Our Lives. Here’s why.

  • Because as a smart business owner, I know it can be the kiss of death to publicly display one’s politics.
  • Because I am first, and foremost, a business owner who already knows she is having a positive influence on a population of people without injecting my political and personal beliefs into my work.
  • And because I feel I need to lead by example to those of you who read and embrace the work I do in advocacy, and want to create and grow good, strong practices of your own.

Support for my refusal to be publicly political:

Suppose I told you I am pro-life. If you are also a pro-lifer, then you would cheer. But if you are pro-choice, you would cluck in disgust.

Now, instead, suppose I told you I am pro-choice. That changes things! If you are pro-life you would begin to question whether my leadership is all you thought it was, while pro-choice believers would just smile and agree.

In all cases, everyone would pass judgment. Everyone would side with me or against me. I would lose respect. And that affects my ability to do business with and lead you.

Bottom line – I will not tell you which side of that issue I believe in, because I don’t want you passing judgment on my ability to lead advocates based on a belief that isn’t related to advocacy anyway. APHA could lose members. Workshop attendance would decline. I could lose book sales. And ultimately, it would be patients who paid the biggest price for my wish to be public because fewer people would become patient advocates.

So – is it worth it for me to share my political beliefs? No. Absolutely not.

Real Life: Late last year, the owner of Papa John’s Pizza very publicly disagreed with NFL players who, protesting police brutality, took a knee during the National Anthem before football games. Ultimately he was forced to step down from his position as CEO, and he lost the NFL contract for his business.

He owned a pizza business, ferheavensake! Why would he take a political stand against anything at all? His protest never changed anything. His opinion is not valued by those who are working against police brutality. Yet, he lost his position, many customers, and his NFL contract. Do you think he thought his public stance was worth it?

Consider:

In general, for small businesses, people don’t separate us as individuals from our companies. I can’t be “just Trisha” without also being the director of APHA, or a certification board member, or the author of business books for patient advocates. And you can’t be “just you” without being your advocacy business too.

No small business can afford to lose half its customers. Unless you have decided your advocacy is only intended to help Trump supporters, or pro-choicers, or dreamer supporters, or climate-deniers, or people who believe we should all have access to AR-15s – then STOP.

For you to be so publicly political actually becomes selfish – because patients need you, and if you politicize your beliefs to the detriment of your business then you won’t be available to help them when their need-time comes.

Where does this come from?

My concerns were sparked a few days ago when I visited Twitter for the first time in months*, where I saw advocates discussing political issues. I watched as one took one side of a debate, publicly supporting a candidate who is well known for his stance on a specific issue. Another was retweeting (sharing) very one-sided posts about a political issue.

I am also sure that some of you, in person, make your politics and beliefs clear to the detriment of your business. That may happen at church, or at a cocktail party, or from your bumper sticker, or Chamber or BNI meeting, or at bridge club or anywhere else.

I’m being very clear today. Unless you are a political lobbyist, you need to stop sharing your political opinions publicly if you want to succeed in your own business.

Remember:

  • In general, for small businesses, people don’t separate us as individuals from our companies.
  • The internet never forgets. Your statements will be “out there” forever.
  • None of us can afford to lose the respect of half the population that needs us. No small business can afford to lose half its customers. Unless you have decided your advocacy is only intended to help people who believe as you do, then you are setting yourself up to fail.
  • It’s selfish – because patients need you, and if you politicize your beliefs to the detriment of your business then you won’t be available to help them when their need-time comes.

Bottom line:

Health and patient advocates are not political. We help everyone. Our passion for our work is not limited to people who believe one thing or another. Therefore, to maximize our abilities to help patient-clients, and to minimize the possibility that they will decide against doing business with us, we need to remain publicly apolitical.

 

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*I love Twitter! But I don’t trust myself to keep my very strong opinions to myself any more – so I rarely visit and no longer tweet.

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Comments

  1. Cynthia Arnett  March 26, 2018

    I totally agree with your position on this issue. I have always had a rule to keep politics out of my work. I had a couple of people I feature on my website who wanted me to post photos of them with political figures. Each one was on opposing sides. I informed both of them politely I will not add any photo which supports one side or the other. This was for the very reasons you mention in this post.

    I appreciate you pointing out the importance of this issue as businesses do lose customers for these reasons, no matter which side you’re on.

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    • Jeff Weinberg  March 26, 2018

      I agree with most of what you wrote, but when it comes to children getting killed in school or woman or minority rights.
      I personally feel I have to take a stand!
      If I lose business so be it.

      Also, the expertise we offer is very unique and when someone needs an advocate, political issues will take a back seat.

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      • Gayle Byck  March 27, 2018

        While I have tried to tone down my politics on social media, ultimately I agree with what Jeff posted above. Some things are just too important. As Elie Wiesel said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Too many people didn’t speak up for Elie Wiesel and mu husband’s relatives in Germany in the 1930s, and I don’t intend to be silent now. I have advocacy skills I can use in many areas of my life. If people saw me at the Women’s March or the March for Our Lives and don’t want to hire me, then I can live with that.

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      • Rick Pugach  March 27, 2018

        Bravo, Jeff.

        Trisha, your point about keeping personal politics out of client relationships and away from public perception of our practices is well taken. But the suggestion that we need to avoid any form of political expression in order to be successful in our practices seems over the top. Market size is only one of many factors that will determine business success.

        You have the right to your opinion that John Schnatter’s protest never changed anything. Some would argue that Colin Kaepernick’s protest did not change anything either. But supporters would argue that their public positions fueled their respective movements. Schnatter and Kaepernick clearly are people who define themselves as more than what they do for a living.

        These situations are cases in point about how society can extract a price when we exercise our First Amendment rights. But for every situation where someone has been punished for expressing her/his views publicly, I can recount 10 Andy-type stories. Andy is my friend who has been active for most of his adult life in the gay rights movement. His profession is residential real estate. While some current or prospective homeowners will avoid Andy because of his sexual preference, he has built a thriving practice with clients of all sexual orientations because he is that good at what he does.

        As for me, I always have stood up for my beliefs. More recently, I was a proud participant in the March for Our Lives and the 2017 Women’s March. Both were moments of strong political expression. Nobody took attendance. I continue to be active in local community issues and politics. I always have viewed my life outside of work as distinct from my professional life. Usually, I have been able to deal with conflicts or issues that have arisen.

        But that’s just me. I think the fundamental point is there is a line out there, beyond which each of us gets beyond our risk tolerance and comfort zone. That line should not be defined for us – it should be for each of us to determine.

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  2. Trisha Torrey  March 27, 2018

    Evidently I didn’t make the point clearly enough that there is a huge difference between public display of political opinions and private display of such. (I tried to be clear by repeatedly using the words “public” and “publicly” but it seems I didn’t do that enough.

    I am personally very politically active. I write and call my congressional (federal) and legislative (state) representatives on a regular basis. I contribute to political causes and campaigns. And (you’ll love this) – I have two facebook pages – one in the name of “Trisha Torrey” where I never ever post anything political. The other one is in my married name where I not only post support for the causes I believe in, but I argue with (and often try to learn from) from those who disagree with me.

    So I am not saying (and didn’t say) that you shouldn’t support the causes you believe in. I said you shouldn’t be public to the detriment of your business.

    There are many ways to help promote your causes and beliefs that won’t interfere with your ability to do business.

    I disagree with the assertion that any of us can afford to dismiss business for a cause. I also disagree that when someone needs your help they will hire you despite your beliefs. If they know you are a supporter of the other side of a cause, then they probably don’t respect you. Unless they trust and respect you, they won’t hire you.

    Put another way – would you hire someone you don’t trust or respect?

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    • Melanie  April 10, 2018

      I’m grateful that you clarified this, Trisha. While I have my own personal political/social beliefs, I don’t want that to hinder my relationships with my clients in any way. As an advocate, I take the Hippocratic oath literally; first do no harm. And while I may have a client whose beliefs I’m in conflict with, my duty is to serve the patient/client as it requires.

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  3. Cindi Gatton  March 27, 2018

    I this this is an important discussion. There’s a mash-up for me, though of two messages here.

    Message #1: As a small business person, your personal beliefs can effect how you are seen by prospective clients. This seems to go without saying. The groups we belong to, the church we go (or don’t go) to, the way we engage with social media, or the political events we support all have an impact on how prospective customers may see us when we aren’t wearing our professional persona. Being thoughtful about our personal public presence is good business.

    Message #2: To serve all prospective clients you must be apolitical. This is the message I personally am having a hard time with. It is one thing to highlight that it is possible to lose business if your public and private personas don’t line up with prospective clients’ beliefs. That’s a reality. While perhaps not intended, implicit in this message as I read it, however is the admonition that we have to bury our private persona to be successful as an advocate.

    To Rich’s example, when what you support is an important part of your truth, then yes, some clients may choose not to work with you if they know what you believe, which is their prerogative. That is fundamentally different than my refusing to work with a client because of *their* beliefs. (There’s a Supreme Court case pending on that issue.)

    Our code of ethics states that we are to serve clients without respect to gender, race, or creed. In fact the only criteria, if we are operating as a for-profit business is that they can pay us. But in this forum and others, it has also been made clear that there are times we may choose not to take a case even when someone *can* pay us and not be violating our ethical standard.

    While I wouldn’t ever espouse any personal beliefs when I am working with a client (Message #1) , I personally am not the least bit worried if my current or prospective clients see me expressing my views when I am acting as a private citizen (going to a religious service or to yoga, or marching in demonstration). For me, this is what it is to live and work in integrity.

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