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Oh No! My Friend Is In Trouble!

Last week, I wrote about how one should handle the exposure he gets embroiled in a criminal probe. This week I will focus on how you should act if you know someone who has been indicted or has been publicly linked to an investigation.

So it seems one of your friends has gotten into a little bit of trouble. You want to be there for him but you do not know what to say. You do not want to ask too many questions but you want to show you are concerned. What do you do?

First, I am going to focus on what NOT to say because it is usually better to say nothing than say something that is completely inappropriate. You would be surprised at the dumb things people have said to me over the years. I am sure they meant well and just did not know better. Just as there is a way to speak to someone who is in mourning or one who is ill, there is a way to speak to someone who has recently become part of the the criminal justice system.

The first thing you should never say is "Wow, I don't know how you are handling it, it really is amazing, I could never handle it like you are." You probably think that you are paying your friend a compliment and telling him how much you admire his resilience. Your intent is probably sincere. However what you are really saying is "Your life sucks buddy, I could never handle such a thing. It really is terrible, and I am glad it isn't me." Think about it, your friend probably struggling with the stress every day and is trying to manage a very complex situation and here you come and tell him that his situation is terrible. How do you think he is going to feel after you say that? Would you walk up to a cancer patient and say "If I had your cancer I wouldn't be able to handle it, Cancer is terrible, I am glad you have it and not me". I do not mean to minimize cancer; quite the contrary, you cannot put a price on health. I am just making the comparison to illustrate that just as there are certain things you do not say to a friend who is ill, you should similarly not say those same types of things to your friend who is dealing with this type of situation. This is his cancer. He does not need you reminding him of how bad it is.

The next thing you should never say is "I feel so bad for you". Just like the above situation, your friend does not need to be reminded of his predicament. He does not want your pity. Does he want your support? Yes. Does he want your pity? Absolutely not! Empathy is an admirable trait. I am sure you mean to be supportive making someone feel like a sad homeless puppy is not the way to do it.

The next thing you definitely should not say is "We were all talking and we really would like you to know that we feel bad that you have to go through this. So basically, what you just told your friend is that he has become a topic for gossip. You are telling him that at some event, that mind you he was not invited to, you all decided to discuss his situation and by the way, thank you for pointing out how dire it is that he needs your sympathy. Again this is something that on the surface seems like a caring comment but from receiving end, it is really doing more harm than good.

NEVER EVER say, things like "So is it true?" or "It's too bad you got caught." or "I am sure you didn't mean do commit a crime but then you got to the point where there was not turning back." or "hopefully you hid the money". It seems obvious, but you would be surprised at how many times I have heard these very comments or comments similar to these. Your friend may very well believe that he is innocent and the last thing he wants is his friend assuming he is guilty. Of course, if he is guilty and did not make financial preparations, you are not exactly helping by pointing out that he is gonig to be having serious financial troubles on top of his legal issues. And if he did hide the money, do you think he is telling you?

Some people ask questions that focus on bad outcomes. The will ask things like "Do you think you wife is going to leave you?" or "How will your kids handle it when you go away?" Clearly questions like these are not helpful. Sure, internally your friend is dealing with some if these issues, but he does not need you reminding him that in addition to his freedom being in jeopardy, his family may come apart as well. Unless he brings these concerns up to you, Lastly, never say "Don't worry, everything is going to be fine", You do not know that everything will be fine so don't make predictions that you do not know will come true.

Often times, friends feel the need to give advice-whether asked for or not! Aside from the arrogance involved in giving unsolicited advice, it usually proves to be completely useless and flat out wrong. This can apply more often to clergy members but it applies to friends as well. Telling someone that you think it is a good idea that he moves to another neighborhood is an example of something that should never be said. What you are telling him is that his reputation is so destroyed where he is that he should just leave town. Also, as I mentioned last week, the most important thing for you friend is to keep things as normal as possible so that he gives off an aura of confidence. Leaving town hardly makes someone look innocent.

Now that I have mentioned what not to say, the question is what you should say. The first thing you need to figure out is how good of a friend you are. Friendships are complicated under the most optimal of circumstances. Even then friends do not always view their friendship in the same light. Just because you think the two of you are good friends does not mean you friend feels the same way. Do not try to fill the role of a close friend when in reality you are nothing of the sort. The last thing anyone wants is someone who he doesn't feel so close to acting as though you are.

Once you figure out what kind of friend you are, the question is what to say. As a general rule is that it pays to offering words of encouragement. Sometimes simply saying, that if they need anything or someone to talk to that they can call you that is enough. Saying something to the effect of "I am sure you have a lot on your mind and if you want to talk about it, I am here" will let him know that you sympathize with the situation but it doesn't convey the same level of pity and graveness as pointing out how dire a situation may seem to be. It is OK to say things like, no matter what I am there for you". Simply pretending that things are normal is sometimes support enough. Believe me, your friend who is in trouble knows you know about it. When he is ready, he will talk to you. Sometimes the best support you can give is by simply asking how he is doing and then keep the relationship going as though everything is normal.

As far as giving advice goes it pays to err on the side of humility. In other words do not give advice unless your opinion is asked. If you do not know enough to give advice then say that you really cant give advice because you do not know enough. If your friend is accused of insider trading and you work in a completely different industry there really is not for all practical purposes what advice you can give him from an industry knowledge perspective. Unless you have gone through a similar experience, there is no way you can possibly know what he is going through so do not pretend to.

Someone going through the grueling process that is the criminal justice system, no matter how big or small the case is undergoing an enormous amount of stress. In may ways he feels as though he is fighting for his life. He is spending lots of time dealing with his lawyers and thinking about how this will play out. Friends want to be supportive, but sometimes less is more.


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