“Shh, walls have ears. Let’s take this elsewhere.”
Ever been pulled away to a corridor or outdoors after hearing that admonishment? Ever thought, “This is silly. Who could be listening?” Ever wondered where the saying came from?
Well, according to Dictionary.com, the old saying ‘ Walls have ears’ may have originated from a story about Dionysius of Syracuse (430-367 b.c.). The story goes that Dionysius commissioned ear-shaped caves cut and connected between the rooms of his palace so that he could hear what was being said in another room. Down the years, other rulers soon followed suit and similar listening posts were installed in power centers across the globe. The Louvre in Paris, for example, is said to have such posts.
Cut to the twenty-first century. Who knows, walls may still have ears. But now, phones most certainly do! That means, if you wish to have a confidential conversation, you need to not only move away from prying walls but go off the grid.
And, nothing demonstrates that fact better than the recent incident at Tech Mahindra.
Over the last few days, social media news feeds have been abuzz after listening to the recording of a conversation between a Tech Mahindra employee and his company’s HR representative. You can read the story and even listen to the recording here.
It is not my intention in this post to comment on the ethics of the situation. Much can be said there about the manner in which the termination was handled as well as the very act of the recording. All I wish to do here is highlight the need for extra vigilance in an era where not just walls, but phones have ears and eyes too!
Actually, the danger posed by a mobile phone’s recording ability first came to my attention at least 10 years ago. It happened when the Sales Head of the organization I was then working for played back an audio recording for my hearing. I was horrified. I was listening to a drunken conversation between 3-4 sales executives. They were making fun of as well as bitching out the Sales Head.
Little did they know that their entire conversation was being recorded by one amongst them!
That audio clip distressed me no end. I remember telling the Sales Head, “If I were you, I would have thrown out the executive who brought this to you. Today, he is recording his colleagues in the hope of currying favour with you. Tomorrow, who knows, he may record you saying something and play it back to the Managing Director. Besides, encouraging tale bearing will never give you real insights into your team. Plus, it can only lead to an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust. And that, is not good for morale or productivity.”
I should also mention here that I thought, and still think, that the executive concerned was betraying colleagues who thought they could trust him.
From that day onwards, I have often wondered why people are not asked to deposit their phones outside meeting rooms. On the one hand, it is good to know that there is still a presumption of trust. But, on the other, it is a necessary precaution to ensure that important discussions stay within the room.
As for the Tech Mahindra employee? My sympathies are with him for the manner is which his employment was abruptly terminated. But I wonder if his recording and its subsequent release to the media is not tantamount to jumping from the frying pan into the fire. For, which employer will take the risk of hiring him now?
Tech Mahindra has been singed as well. The recording resulted in an apology from no less than Anand Mahindra himself (read Anand Mahindra Apologises Over Tech Mahindra’s Employee Firing). The apology was the right thing to do and timely. But it will take a lot more to undo the damage caused by a device called the smart phone.
Not so smart then!
Featured Cover Image: “Shhh walls have ears, are you sure co’s this ones got eyes !” – Craig Sunter, Flickr.com CC BY-ND 2.0