The Union Of The Tablecloth

“The tablecloth between them has been cut.”

This was the comment by business analyst Roger Entner, quoted in an article ran in today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. Entner’s remark pertained to the previously warm and longstanding relationship between two top CEOs in the wireless phone industry. Like a quote from Warren Buffett the day prior, this statement included an image of great meaning. Unlike the Buffett quote, however, the tablecloth carries more pleasant connotations, a fact pointed out to me by my company’s chairperson of the board, also known as “wife” in my household!

The presence of the mealtime cloth is a powerful symbol of sitting down together and enjoying a meal. It is the foundation for “breaking bread.” The basic reality of eating together, of a shared experience, speaks to the union across the table. The two CEOs had endured much. From their mutual endurance and experience, they had a bond. The cutting of the cloth strikes at the destruction of the relationship.

The cutting hints at further bad tidings. It has the feel of a type of permanency; you don’t easily envision the split cloth being re-stitched. Maybe the relationship is beyond repair. Even if it’s capable of mending, the rejoined fabric will always bear the mark of the original dispute. The relationship can continue, to be sure, but it will likely require a still greater level of effort to maintain the rejoining. Either way, it’s a difficult outcome that demands a lot from both sides of the table.

Drawn from daily life. Connotations of enjoyment and pleasantries. These are some of the markers for images you want to use in your communication as a leader.