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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mistrust may make for good business in communications

Scott Flegal

The late business author and guru Stephen Covey used to talk and write about a concept he called the “speed of trust.” It was his way of describing the impact that mutual trust has on communications and relationships. When a relationship had the speed of trust, he said, communication is effortless and incredibly fast. Decision-making is enabled, and outcomes are improved.

On the other hand, when trust is lacking in a relationship, communication can get bogged down. Decision-making processes can be hostile and painful. Good outcomes can be hard to come by. This, of course, is as true in our personal lives as it is in our business lives. But not every relationship is best served by mutual trust. ...

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The late business author and guru Stephen Covey used to talk and write about a concept he called the “speed of trust.” It was his way of describing the impact that mutual trust has on communications and relationships. When a relationship had the speed of trust, he said, communication is effortless and incredibly fast. Decision-making is enabled, and outcomes are improved.

On the other hand, when trust is lacking in a relationship, communication can get bogged down. Decision-making processes can be hostile and painful. Good outcomes can be hard to come by. This, of course, is as true in our personal lives as it is in our business lives. But not every relationship is best served by mutual trust.

Take, for example, our relationship with the federal government. When it comes to that relationship, history continues to demonstrate that citizens are better served by a certain level of distrust in federal government. Distrust of centralized government is, of course, at the very roots of our history as a nation. Thankfully, the framers of our Constitution harbored this distrust, and it is largely what drove them to draft that document in the fashion they did. The Constitution is nothing if not a framework for protecting us from the very people we elect to represent us.

Individual citizens are not the only ones best served by a healthy distrust of the federal government. Businesses operate in the same fashion. Most, for instance, harbor a substantial level of distrust for the IRS. They know that many businesses in our economy are periodically singled out for particularly harsh treatment. We might like to think that such “special” treatment is merely revenue driven, but it isn’t. The IRS sometimes discriminates against businesses because of certain characteristics. It is wrong, and unconstitutional, but it happens.

That is one reason why we should not be surprised by the allegations that the IRS singled out individual taxpayers whose returns indicated ties to the Tea Party. This is what the absolute power of large, centralized government begets. The behavior is only encouraged in an intensely partisan system where so much influence is for sale. Businesses harbor a healthy distrust of the IRS, and there is nothing wrong with that.

We also should harbor a healthy distrust of the Justice Department. Most recently, the Justice Department covertly obtained the records for more than 20 Associated Press office and journalist telephone lines. Some of the records included home phones and cell phones.

The exercise, apparently, was in furtherance of an investigation into an intelligence leak.

The Justice Department, perhaps drunk with power, determined that, in this case, its right to information trumped not only the first amendment and privacy rights of those reporters, but of our right to information from a free press as citizens in a democracy. Most folks view a press that operates without government interference as an essential element of our democracy. The Justice Department will not always share that view. Some distrust is healthy.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not one of those conspiracy nuts. My level of distrust has not advanced anywhere near that far. But I must admit, it is growing. Online communication has given the federal government an unprecedented ability to monitor us. It seems more than willing to do so. That is a bad combination.

My client and friend Gary Miliefsky, a renowned cyber-security expert and the principal of a Nashua-based cyber-security company called SnoopWall LLC, tells me that the National Security Administration is currently at work on building the world’s largest data eavesdropping and storage repository. It will be fully operational in the fall of this year and will be able to store “trillions and trillions of bytes of information.” Needless to say, the NSA is the latest addition to my healthy distrust list.

Ironically, just as technology has gotten us into this mess, it may get us out. San Francisco-based Wickr has a mission to provide secure communications that “Leave No Trace.” They claim to have created a protocol, which when integrated with other communications platforms, will result in a unified mobile-messaging platform that is “private, encrypted and anonymous.” In other words, it will render your online communications untraceable.

Given the recent actions of the Justice Department and the IRS, don’t be surprised if the mainstream begins to find its way to Wickr.

Its early adopters, not surprisingly, have been students and young people. They are online all the time, and do not want their information viewed, monitored, sold or shared. I keep asking myself how that makes them any different from the rest of us.

In any event, I have to believe that given the Justice Department’s recent actions, many of our writers and journalists are going to want what Wickr has to offer. It is, after all, what healthy mistrust begets.

Scott Flegal is a business lawyer and mediator. Visit him online at www.flegal.com or www. negotiationworks.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/hscottflegal and read his blog at scottflegal.com.