On Second Opinions


I once talked someone out of hiring me, and then talked them out of hiring anyone remotely like me. The first outcome was obvious. I only learned of the second much later.

Talking someone out of hiring you can seem weird, but it’s a good exercise in providing clarity (i.e usually the very thing people hire you to do). In piecing together what needed to be done in this role, something didn’t add up.

From memory:

  1. Bring a fresh take to a highly regulated space.
  2. Wrangle a team of stakeholders with wildly varying agendas.
  3. Establish a culture of intrapreneurship.
  4. Manage across three time zones.

These are all laudable goals. And I believe the person hiring for the role had the best intentions. And who am I to say this isn’t perfect for someone out there? But the heart of the matter behind this was more implicit : the mindset being sought. “highly regulated space” and “intrapreneur” doesn’t roll off the tongue together very often. And for good reason.

If you were hiring a role like this, could you find one person to do all of these things without going crazy? No. Could they do some of these things without going crazy? Also, no.

“If you want to know what I think..”

I think the person hiring for this role desperately needed a work friend, and they saw this as their chance.

I think they saw themselves as an outlier in an org that used to excite them, but no longer did. They wanted change but never experienced it at their level.

One can influence and change an organization, but not through force of will or by proxy. I like to think I helped someone’s mental health that day by (indirectly) influencing this person to take the job off the table, or at least rework it.

The Vault of Second Opinions

This brings up a bigger question (and the reason the story came to mind) of how people solicit second opinions. Many second opinions are shrouded within some kind of social interaction: people wanting to “pick your brain” over coffee. That sort of thing.

I never fully know how my opinions influence an outcome when they are second opinions but I’m glad when they do. When a person (the decision-maker) has enough information to develop an informed stance on something, the dialogue tends to be richer and more engaging for both parties.

There’s a meta-narrative in my head that forms around the relationship between this person and how they solicited their “first opinion” but that’s a separate topic. Fascinating stuff though.

How do you know you’ve helped?

I can usually tell if someone is close to the mark if they start nodding, or suddenly interrupt themselves to add a piece of information they didn’t deem relevant at the start. Or stop to correct me with “see, that’s what I thought too, but…” Those are all great signs something is clicking.

I wish more people would be explicit rather than playing coy to just “run something by you”. Give discussion it’s due. Certain people (i.e. managers) feel it’s disrespectful to the person who offered their first opinion if they seek a second. It isn’t, and it doesn’t need to feel awkward.