I was telling a colleague about my experience the other day where several participant on a panel I was running wouldn’t open up and talk freely, because they were representing large companies. “It’s frustrating,” I told my colleague, “because they were perfectly willing to speak freely with me over lunch just a few hours before the panel.”

“That’s because you were under a FrieNDA”, my colleague said. I had never heard the term, so he explained.

It’s sort of like an NDA, he said (it stands for “non-disclosure agreement”), except that a FrieNDA is not a legal thing. Instead, it’s the idea that if somebody tells you something in a one-on-one conversation, then they never really said it. They are essentially trusting that you will be smart enough not to publicly say “so and so from [fill in name of large company] said this.”

And that makes sense to me, because we all understand where the boundaries are. For example, it would be perfectly ok for me to repeat what they said in other one-on-one conversations, because that’s just me claiming they said something. There’s no real evidence chain proving that they really ever said it.

But if they themselves were to say the same thing in a public panel, then they have no plausible deniability. If their company gets pissed off that they’ve spilled the beans about something, they are screwed.

The end result of this process is that I get to know all sorts of amazing things that I would never tell you in this blog. But if you and I were just talking over beer, I might end up telling you some of those things.

After all, no matter what you might end up learning over that beer about what somebody told me, officially they never said it. That, my friend, is the beauty of a FrieNDA.

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