Do You Want My Opinion or My Tacit Agreement?

Many people ask me for my opinions. My opinions are solicited by family, friends, and clients, and sometimes, even by strangers. I would go as far as saying I am a professional giver of opinions, in that my clients retain me primarily for my expert opinions and advice about their high stakes lawsuits. Sometimes, however, my friends ask me for my opinion when, in reality, they want me to do nothing more than give my tacit agreement to a course of action upon which they have already decided to embark. A recent experience with a childhood friend brought this, relatively frequent, occurrence to the forefront of my mind. This friend, who is now refusing to communicate with me (in today’s parlance, I have been ghosted by this person), asked me for my professional opinion regarding an important family matter that is in long term litigation. Although I never give legal advice, I am qualified to give advice on decision making and other matters pertaining to my field of social psychology. This friend of mine, whom I have known since childhood, wrote a scathing letter to the judge who has been assigned to decide the family’s complex and contentious legal battle (involving millions of dollars, nefarious activities among family members, and many other things that could be turned into a TV courtroom drama). An interesting tidbit is that the judge happens to be a friend of mine, a fact of which my childhood friend is aware. I read the letter, written by my friend to the judge, along with an accompanying series of motions written by my friend’s attorney, and I was taken aback by the overall disrespectful tone of everything I read. My friend asked me for my opinion, even including a remark, “What do you think your judge friend will say about this?”. I thought, carefully, for a day or so, before I responded to the emailed request for my opinion. My reply was something along the lines of the following: “Dear Friend, this judge, not to mention any judge, is likely to be highly offended by the disrespectful tone of your letter and your lawyer’s motions, all of which make serious accusations about his competence. If you truly want the judge to help you, you will need to write a letter that shows some respect for him, both as a person and as an officer of the court. There is considerable social psychological research that reveals people, including judges, are more likely to help people they like. Thus, if you have any hope of getting this judge on your side, consider re-writing the letter in a more friendly tone.” I guess that is not the opinion my friend wanted, because I have never heard from this person again. The moral of this story is be careful what you ask for. If you want me to say “I agree with you 100%,” just say so. But if you ask me for my opinion, it might not be what you wanted to hear!

This topic is obviously very real and concerning to Melissa.  The nature of the two relationships with which Melissa was dealing in this situation made it even more difficult.  Fortunately, I do not think I have faced such a conflicting situation.  I may be guilty of offering unsolicited advice or suggestions, and sometimes, a best course of action seems clear to me.  But actions in life are best decided by the one living in the situation.  Often, this is done with the person soliciting advice, sometimes from multiple people, and that may lead to problems in itself.  I’ve found myself in the position to help several friends who are dealing with aging parents and dementia.  Melissa and I have became relative experts because of our experiences.  I have tried my best in these situations to provide whatever counsel I can provide in a way that makes it clear I am sharing my insights, but it is up to the person asking my opinion to take whatever actions these things require.  I try to do this, while also trying to not to suggest that I have any reason to expect any particular reward or return from the advice.  It is up to the person to use the suggestions as they see fit and I won’t hold it against the person if they act in a different fashion.  The old thing about not being able to lead a horse to water is real.  I try to provide the water, and let the horse find its own way.  

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