(Photograph attributed to Wikimedia.)
History would almost certainly have turned out differently if the DNC server had been boring. But it wasn’t. It was a cesspool of salacious gossip, childish invective and pork-barrel politics. Plots against Bernie Sanders and deals for political rewards for generous donors. And much more. If you were Donald Trump, what wasn’t to like?
Once hacked, the Democrats lost any moral high ground they may have had and appeared amateurish. Given two deplorable choices, voters went for the clown with the best circus.
Let’s be clear-- the Russians hacked the DNC. But let’s also be clear-- the Russians didn’t put the ugly stuff there. The Democrats did.
When they were caught, the DNC offered abject apologies: "On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email".
Nice try, but why would you believe them to be sincere? Humpty Dumpty was off the wall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men were helpless. The election was over.
The Lessons of History
What the Democrats learned is that once the horse is out of the barn it’s too late to deny that you had a horse. This is a lesson for every enterprise.
Your enterprise needs to govern its public and private communication on the assumption that it will all come to light at an inopportune moment. The only time you have any real control is when the communication is being created.
Seven Simple Rules for Enterprise Communication:
1. Don’t say in the dark what you will regret when the lights go on. Dirty secrets will always be dirty, but not always secret. Conduct yourself as if everyone is constantly watching. They probably are.
2. In your enterprise setting, if you don’t know how everyone in the organization is talking, you had better be prepared to live with the consequences. Side conversations will come to light and embarrass you. While you can’t oversee every word, you can control the culture.
3. Understand the difference between private messaging and public messaging, and keep a firewall between them. Discussions which are intended to be private, such as memos about terminating an employee, client or supplier, need to be conducted in very grown-up language, marked confidential, and fire-walled. While you never want such communication to become public, write as if it will.
4. If your public face and your private face are not consistent, you will be caught out and embarrassed. The supermarket tabloids are not going to report on the 95% of your internal communication which is honourable.
5. If someone in your enterprise doesn’t speak or act like a grown-up, deal with them. Each childish outburst or incendiary memo is just one more step on the road to Armageddon.
6. What you think you are saying, and what the public thinks it hears, can be two very different things. Particularly for sensitive material, have someone else review for potential misinterpretation.
7. When you get sued, your file will be Exhibit “A”. You will be cross-examined on every word on every page. Today you can control those pages, tomorrow you can’t. Need I say more?
Norman Bowley is a communicator by passion, a lawyer and educator by profession. Thirty-six years of legal practice after ten years as an educator have equipped Norm to teach professionals how to communicate effectively and with power.