IN the corporate setting, especially for listed companies, rules on discussing issues can require recusals (excusing oneself from giving any comment) as when the matter at hand involves a possible conflict of interest. The party with a pecuniary stake on an item on the agenda may even opt to leave the room to allow a more freewheeling discussion, without the distraction of body language, say a glowering look at opponents to a proposal under consideration. (Did you consider my company’s property as a site for the new head office?)
The effort to maintain an arm’s-length detachment in the evaluation of an item that involves a conflicted party, who may have stepped out of a board meeting, does not always succeed. There are minutes of the meeting to show how the votes went. The recusing party is bound to find out who the naysayers were and may exact his revenge later — this has nothing to do with your violent opposition to a proposal three years ago.
In other fora, say in the board meeting of a managed fund, discussions on the effect of the downgrading of the credit rating of the number one economy, the forecasted exchange rate by yearend, and the favored stocks in the market are reserved for designated experts from research or gray hairs around the table. A revered one slumped on his chair (Is he dozing off?) may be tapped and given the microphone to provide an opinion on China’s GDP prospects after the pandemic. Everybody is expected to pay close attention as the wisdom pours forth softly to the receptive ears around the table — the aging population is likely to worsen the profile of the labor force.
Withholding comment is best done voluntarily. There should be no need for someone to interject rudely — you’re full of brown matter. However, for a designated moderator with guests around the table some order must be imposed in soliciting comments. This panel format is now used for live conferences with a host and selected “reactors” (nothing nuclear) discussing a particular topic.
The host (even females are seldom referred to as “hostesses”) tries to go around the table and ensure that all panelists are given a chance to pontificate. It is considered bad form to have one guest brooding in silence with only an audible shifting in the chair to express his ennui. The realization that one panelist has yet to speak up puts the host in a mild panic, as she scrambles to ask a question for “our youngest guest in the panel” (somebody who shouldn’t be here and has no gravitas to speak of) — do farmers feel the benefits of the country’s lower inflation rate? Short answer: No, ma’am. (Let’s take a short break for some announcements.)
Prodding guests that have long pauses between words and sentences (called dead air in TV parlance) to hurry up smacks of discourtesy especially when cutting off icons still clearing their throats. This can also invite social media attacks as a bad case of ageism.
Withholding comment is not easy, especially when one has something to contribute on a topic, sometimes an informed and objective opinion. Even here one needs a moderator to call out the expert to give his comments. (And now for some adult perspective on this topic.)
Still, even an acknowledged expert on an arcane topic like artificial intelligence may opt to clam up. This is to avoid pontificating and giving definitions that are taken for granted in this person’s circle — no ma’am, “natural intelligence” is not the opposite of “artificial intelligence.” Jumping into a conversation where the expertise is not evenly distributed can smack of condescension by someone just trying to correct misconceptions on the topic under discussion.
In more formal fora, even the parliamentary rules can seem too liberal. The highest level of adversarial discussion can limit one’s role in a legislative proceeding. Non-participation can take the form of manifesting personal hygiene rituals like combing out the lice in one’s moustache, while staring in space.
Active participation in this setting can even be more disconcerting.
Rambling on about the public debt’s solution to be the increase in population to reduce the per capita statistic may not even be fit for casual conversation. To see such displays of ignorance as part of TV news in a senate hearing may make one crave for silence… and a pining for the good old days of parliamentary brilliance.
Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda