Wall Street or Main Street, the problem is the same

Oct 01 2008 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

I'm sure, like me, you're drowning in reports, debates, opinions, treatises, articles and sound bites about recent events on Wall Street.

While most of these data bits and opinion pieces have focused on issues of "financial", credit, "paper", products, stocks, mortgages, housing, greed, and the like, what shouts out at me is a deeper issue – a systemic breakdown in relationships and an erosion of trust.

There was a time when obtaining a loan or mortgage was a process carried out between two individuals, a banker and one's self. This resulted in a long-term relationship characterized by deep bonds based on trust, openness, transparency and honesty.

Over time, this relationship morphed into a fragmented process which includes numerous individuals many of whom never even speak to each other, let alone meet.

In essence, what was once a relationship has become a transaction, a complex series of disjointed connections with numerous players, including you, – each of whom is seen as a function, as opposed to a real, flesh-and-blood human.

Main Street
A flavor of what has been happening on Wall Street is also happening on Main Street. The dynamic we have come to know as a "relationship" is quickly disintegrating and being replaced by another dynamic called a "connection" between, for example, a spouse and their partner, a parent and their child, and between lover and lover – a transaction that most often is separated by distance.


  • Do you deal with your internal/external clients personally after the initial contact, or do you "hand them off" to others? Are you available to them personally if they want to contact you later on?
  • Do you ever view colleagues, co-workers and clients as "irritants?" How about your children? Do you prefer to "connect" with them at an "arm's distance"?
  • What is your preferred mode of communicating at work? In person or by electronic device (even when in-person is very do-able)?
  • How would you describe the nature of your relationships at work, at home and in friendships: "connecting" or "relating"? What would others say about how you relate?
  • Do you have trust issues with folks at work, at home and/or at play?
  • Are you usually physically "available" when folks need you? Emotionally available?
  • How many chairs in your home actually face one another? How often do you have face-to-face conversations with each other as opposed to "snippets" sitting side by side while watching TV?
  • When you and your family sit down for meals, is the cell phone also a require utensil?
  • When you have meals with your children at home, or out, do they spend more time looking at some electronic device than they do being engaged in meaningful conversation with you and each other? What about you?
  • Does your spouse, partner or child ever remark that you feel "distant" to them?
  • Would others describe you as "cold" or "unapproachable"? How do you know?
  • Do your children have social challenges when relating to others or to you?
  • How many hours of watching TV, or playing electronic games, or being on the Internet do you and your children engage in every week? Do you care?
  • Are you ever lonely?

The new relationship on Wall Street and Main Street is a more superficial one, defined by connecting through email, iPhone, Blackberry, Twitter, Linkedin, MySpace, FaceBook or whatever. And what all these have in common is that they are electronic connection devoid of any "personal-ness."

Personally and professionally - at work, at home and at play - folks are becoming more and more disconnected and distant. As relationships have become more impersonal, with limited face-to-face interaction, an all-important emotional connection is lost.

Critically, with that loss, trust erodes. And when trust erodes, untrustworthy behavior fills the void.

Healthy, conscious relationships that exude openness and trust can only be cultivated when and where all parties experience an emotional safe zone. As relationships are replaced by electronic interactions and transactions, emotional connection, the "human factor", the "secret sauce" that defines and creates true and real relationships, erodes.

In addition, as relationships erode, and as trust erodes, so does deep, abiding friendship, the one element that marriage researcher John Gottman says is the definitive foundational element that determines the sustainability of relationships.

When there is no emotional connection, there is no true and real friendship. No friendship, no trust. No trust, no honesty, no transparency, no truth-telling.

The "ethers" through which electronic connections are made today – with our banks, with other businesses, with our loved ones, with our friends and colleagues - cannot create this safe zone. Electronic connections do not and cannot create an emotional trustworthiness. Thus, the one major unintended consequence of "separation by electronics" is the erosion of trust.

The reality is that within this electronic, "transactional" world, what is happening is that more and more folks may be "connecting"; however, fewer and fewer folks are "relating." We might live in an increasingly interconnected world, but we are living less and less involved in an "interrelated" world.

Thus, we are experiencing the fragmentation of relationships at work, at home and at play – one major consequence of living in an electronically-connected world.

The disintegration of relationships outside the business world, in the family as we know it, is the subject of much sociological and psychological research. Parent-to-parent, parent-to-child, and child-to-child contact is more and more a function of an electronic connection and a quick "CU" text message that is a poor substitute for true and real dialogue or feeling. No wonder our "contacts" are lacking emotional connection and a deeper sense of commitment and intimacy.

Is it no surprise, either, that more and more parents are finding their teenage and adolescent children indulging in alcohol and drug abuse or other aberrant behaviour. The disintegration of true and real relationships in favor of "electronic" connections leads to an erosion of trust and an erosion of trust leads to inappropriate behavior and "trouble." In other words, the disintegrating relationships on Wall Street and Main Street are simply symptomatic of a greater threat and challenge we face – a world of increasing interconnecting and decreasing interrelating.

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.

Older Comments

Your thesis is oh, so true. As managers and leaders we need to do what we can to restore 'relationships' in our work places. With all the electronic connectivity we have there is a sense of being 'disconnected' which, I believe, impacts on the quality and tone of the decisions we make. When we have a real relationship with people we take a different view of how our decisions affect them than to people we don't 'know.'

Charles A. Ray Arlington, VA

Thank you for clarifying the value of 'Trust' rather than 'Transaction'. In my work with Directors who are handling redundancies it continues to amaze me how often they bypass the opportunity for a personal approach you describe as “personal-ness' and go for the impersonal route of electronic communication. It is as if they think companies can be run by remote control. The best outcomes from redundancies are Directors who work hard at explaining and maintaining/building trust during a critical business transition. The result can be a more robust and re-energised company but as Peter Vajda says it does take trust, honesty and transparency. Peter Vreede Redundancy Assist

Peter Vreede London England