Networking and Chinese Walls

Aerial view of the Broadgate Tower, London
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When I worked in the City of London in the heady eighties there was always some big financial deal going on. Perhaps a takeover bid or an IPO could be on the cards. One of the ethical problems was that different parts of the same company could be working on a project in conflicting ways because they acted for different parties to a particular deal, or even opponents in a takeover battle. For that reason, confidentiality had to be preserved even within the firm one worked for, so one couldn’t afford a careless word over lunch in the canteen or on the park bench. These special arrangements where we could not talk about our work with members of staff on another team were and are called Chinese Walls.

A similar situation might arise at a personal level. Cousin Bill might not get on with Aunt Agatha. We would like to maintain good relations with both so we just don’t mention one to the other when talking. Much better to keep quiet and keep both happy. It is not dishonest; just diplomatic and in that way we could help either if need be without any acrimony.

In our on-line and off-line networking we can find ourselves in similar situations where we find that one good friend or business acquaintance has some animosity towards another. We can stumble unwittingly into a problematic situation if we are unaware, but once we do know then we have to treat them like Cousin Bill and Aunt Agatha and just avoid referring to one in the other’s company.

I have found myself in an embarrassing position not being aware of a problem between a couple of acquaintances, but once I realised, brought down the Chinese Wall between them. Have you found yourself caught between two adversaries? What did you do?

© Jon Stow 2010

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