Keeping smart people from doing stupid stuff

When I attended law school no one informed me that I would spend a substantial part of most days talking smart people out of doing stupid stuff. Lessons in best practices doing this could have been one of my more valuable practimum experiences had anyone thought to teach this. It seems to be the lot of most attorneys–especially attorneys who practice in areas, like family law, in which a party’s conduct during the litigation period can have significant impacts on the outcome. We spend our days talking clients out of doing dumb things that they really really want to do because we understand how devastating it is to help clients try to recover after they have done the dumb things they did before they retained us. “I don’t feel like you’re taking my side” is often client-speak for “you’re not encouraging me to do something I want to do but know I shouldn’t.” Since folks hate being reminded that a desired course of conduct is counterproductive–even when they know it is–this often places attorneys in a position adversarial to their clients.

The task talking smart people out of doing stupid stuff doesn’t only apply to clients. Much of our time is spent doing this with our friends, family, and work colleagues. Even gentle attempts to suggest they change their actions leads to anger and defensiveness. We feel frustrated and impotent watching our loved ones engage in counterproductive behavior while standing by powerless to stop them. This behavior is so hardwired into humanity that my surprise isn’t merely that we weren’t taught this lesson in law school–it’s that we weren’t taught it in kindergarten and religious school.

Perhaps the most common smart person we talk out of doing stupid stuff is ourself. My personal trainer can harp on eating less and healthier but ultimately I need to–with very inconsistent results–talk myself out of opening the freezer or grabbing another slice of pizza. My counselor spends much time of her time convincing me–actually, since this is counseling, she guides me into convincing myself–that I don’t need to be triggered by every (or any) attack–yet that doesn’t stop me from unleashing my inner gorilla on occasion. No matter how smart one is, one never likes to hear “don’t” or “NO.” Doing stupid stuff is part of the human condition. As long as it remains part of the human condition we will spend a substantial part of most days talking smart people out of doing it.

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  • U c a V i k

    You have nailed it and from my experience I can tell you, no amount of cajoling and convincing can change the minds of smart people if they have set their minds to do otherwise. Its only when they experience less than desirable consequences, they make the course correction.

    http://familybankruptcy.attorney

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