When to keep quiet

A Point of View

Melissa Pigott, Ph.D.

On June 9, 2015

Category: Business personalities, Careers, Employment, Getting the Job Done, Managing Employees, Small Business Success, Trial Consulting

As my late mother used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone (or something), don’t say anything at all.” As a very opinionated person, I have often had difficulty following this motto; however, there are times when the reprehensible behavior, outlandish conduct, or unbelievably stupid comment of someone renders me with nothing to say. In addition, when I know in advance about people or situations that are guaranteed to cause me enough turmoil that I am unable to voice my true opinion, I avoid them completely. If I believe there is no benefit in sharing my point of view, correcting someone who I know is wrong about something, or participating in a discussion about a topic that is likely to end in discord, I often prefer to keep my opinions to myself or remove myself entirely from the situation. If I meet someone for the first time, I use my observational skills as a psychologist to decide whether he or she is someone with whom I want to have a discussion. If so, I may have something interesting to say; but, if not, this person will wonder what my voice sounds like! I had an extremely negative encounter with a client a few years ago involving how long it would be until lunch time. He and I could not agree on anything and, when we interpreted the time of day depicted on my watch in two different ways, I knew there was nothing more for me to say. It is times like these that I follow Mom’s advice and say nothing, nothing at all.

Building on what Melissa has written, I am thinking of the old adage, “better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt,” except in this analysis, it would “better to avoid a confrontation than to open your mouth and get into one!” It has been interesting to observe over the years when Melissa, and I, have taken the non confrontational approach with clients (see other post on bosses) because she and I know, from working on thousands of cases, with many thousands of mock jurors, that the bosses’/clients’ perspectives will soon be proven to be wrong. That is to say, we know that if we just wait, we do not need to confront or contradict a client, things will just work out in a way that they learn something which is different from their expectation. If we tried to argue the point with our clients who, as lawyers, are professional arguers, we would get nowhere and harsh feelings might develop. Instead, we let the mock jurors enlighten them. One of the best examples of this was the time we had an insurance adjuster arrive at the research and tell Melissa, “I don’t want to be here, but my attorney insisted on it. I’m paying your bill, but I’m not happy.” Okay, we knew where things stood, but he went on “I think we have a 50/50 chance of winning this and if we lose the case the jury probably won’t award more than $500,000.” He was wrong, but Melissa took the “keep my mouth shut” route and when the first 2 mock jury panels were unanimous against his client and awarded $4 to 6 million, he was devastated. In total, 4 panels were 100% against him to the tune of millions. The jurors proved him to be wrong in a way that no argument would have. (He subsequently apologized for the way he started the day because he realized we probably saved his job.) But, the point is, being silent can be very effective!

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