Tony Samson-125


RELATIONSHIPS between the greatest superpower and a certain territory claimed by the other superpower can amble along with “strategic ambiguity.” Lines are not broken but just pushed a bit. Can personal relationships also benefit from a vaguely undefined status? Household arrangements or rearrangements are not always straightforward. Neat labels are no longer solicited — it is what it is.

How often do we hear those in an undefined arrangement that is bumpy, if not off the road, maybe with detours and extended foray into the woods involved, struggling to be in the general vicinity? What’s the obsession with definitions and setting things straight? Can’t things just be left dangling and vaguely undefined? Is it necessary to specify what the new status is? (Let’s just be friends without benefits?)

Ambiguity can be an uncomfortable status in any alliance, even one that is all done and for which a modus vivendi, like no longer taking calls or ghosting, prevails. Celebrity couples whose joint accounts have been raided by one of the parties, or both, may still feel obliged to issue a public statement that they are trying to work out a process on the best way to bring some closure — to the joint bank account, anyway.

A definitive ending that allocates responsibility for payment of utilities and trips to the beach has nothing to do with the loss of reciprocal affections. Anyway, payments are seldom current. Even for unmarried live-in couples, an arrangement no longer exceptional nowadays, explanations to the easily shocked spinster aunts fall in the category of a long engagement — we’re saving up for a condo.

The only negotiated conditions, not left open to any ambiguity, refer to financial obligations. What is a pre-nuptial contract, after all, but a setting down of the terms and condition of the break-up of a merger without further acquisitions?

It is for these mundane details perhaps that some clarity is required. Also, new parties may have joined the old duets to make a discordant quartet sing off-key. (Are we on the same music sheet?) So, closure brings with it mostly unsavory fiscal issues that intrude into an eroded relationship where love no longer conquers all.

Complications set in when the estranged couple (this modifier seems to be favored over the more accurate “toxic”) cross paths on a quotidian basis, say working in the same office, or dealing with each other in business transactions as client and service provider, or in the entertainment business being in the same noontime program — we’re all professionals here, we only claw each other’s eyes out off-camera.

In business too (let’s not forget this is a business column in a business paper) ambiguity is allowed after a deal is concluded in principle with certain provisions still dependent on due diligence. (Do we have veto power on nominated independent directors?) Tender offers to minority shareholders are postponed to a later date, even when the company has already been taken over by a new set of charioteers whipping the old horses. Still, not all eventualities can be foreseen and provided for. Some vagueness driven by the desire to make the deal work must be addressed later in an agreed conciliation process.

What about the ambiguous status of an early political appointee? No forthright denial is issued when the matter of a forced resignation is bruited about in media. The ambiguous denial (I was just here at my office) brings up more questions than answers. Sometimes, “fake news” (this is always the default excuse for unconfirmed rumors) has some basis. Where there’s smoke, there’s somebody smoking.

Still, in business as in social relations, ambiguity suffices for those in the middle of an unresolved conflict. The boss who has remorse over an appointment may continue to give lukewarm support to his successor — of course we meet regularly. And there are no slide presentations needed: Do you see my chart?

An ambiguous person is afforded some flexibility. His commitments are vague — we can do a virtual lunch. Buy your own burger.

The word “ambiguous” comes from Latin ambi — both, plus agere — to drive. To be able to drive both ways clearly allows the driver to set the direction and the destination at the last minute and determine how long the trip will take with all the detours. Will he eventually reach his destination? Perhaps… but not always the one either party expected.


Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda