Recommendations: Are you sure you want to offer advice?

We trade recommendations back and forth like baseball cards from our childhood. “Do you have a great dentist?” “Could you recommend the person who colors your hair?” “Have you been to Portugal and, if so, would you recommend going there? We’ve heard Lisbon is gorgeous. Where should we stay?”

In fact, these days it seems that everyone has become a professional critic whether through conversation or online. Consider all the sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor where you can leave your comments for strangers and businesses to read.

It’s so easy to ask someone for a suggestion or an opinion, “Did you like the onion soup at that new café down the street?” That’s an easy “yes” or “nah, I’ve had better.” However, actually offering specific names and places can be a bit trickier.

Taste is subjective. As our mothers always said regarding a difference of opinion, “That’s what makes for horseracing” or “It’s why we have chocolate and vanilla!” Or, the play I thought was terrific, you thought a snooze, or the veal parmigiana that I considered tender and delicious you found unappealing and gooey. And our taste in travel and hotels may never align like the stars in the sky we hope to see while away. Maybe you don’t care to spend more than the national debt on a room and like to rough it rather than pay for a hotel where staff waits on you at every turn. The same is true about recommending a doctor. You want great bedside manner in addition to brilliant care while I just want the right diagnosis.

You recommend a fabulous museum show to a friend and she finds it has too many artworks and is overly pedantic. For her it was tortuous. You might even get defensive and think to yourself, “How could she not like that museum show when I thought it was brilliant—fabulously mounted on colorful walls and super organized chronologically, as well as having insightful comments in the captions.”

So, we’ve found through the years that if you’re going to dish out advice, it can bite you in the tush. Better either to keep your opinions to yourself or in an effort to be helpful, be prepared for potential fallout if recipients and others disagree and sometimes strongly to your face or in emails. As Oscar Wilde said, “No good deed goes unpunished.” You’re trying to be helpful to a good friend or even an acquaintance. Maybe it’s time to keep your opinions to yourself.

With some people, you might want to provide your recommendations with a strong caveat. “I hope you find them useful but don’t feel compelled to try. This is my opinion and we might not be on the same page.” You might even add that you don’t want them to report back if they disagree or have problems with the dentist, lawyer or whomever.

Or, if they insist on telling you how wrong you are in your suggestions—and some will, you might put on your suit of armor before you receive comments back. “What were you thinking in recommending that movie?” your friend says in a condescending tone. You might just smile and say, “I’m so sorry you didn’t like it; we did.” Cut the discussion off at the pass and switch topics to something as innocuous as the weather, the latest royal baby or marriage, or something factual that can be checked on Google. After all, a fact is a fact.

And when it comes to reviews or recommendations for businesses, you might take a deep breath, step back and really think how you affect a company’s bottom line and others’ wallets. Leaving a good review may send people to that business, perhaps, a restaurant or hotel, so give as much detail as you can to guide readers. If you’re leaving a bad review, be sure that it wasn’t just one awful meal you experienced. Say that you had one bad experience not several. It could have been an off night. If a startup eatery, perhaps, it hadn’t quite gotten its act together yet. Say that, too, and add that you might give it another try. Barbara and beau are doing so with a new Chinese restaurant in her town; the dumplings were incredibly bland—read tasteless--and the Kung Pao shrimp overly spicy, but they know it doesn’t quite have all the pieces in place. Margaret and a friend tried a charming neighborhood Italian restaurant recently and left it up to the owner to choose what they should order. It did not disappoint, and she would highly recommend the place. Also, the wine list of mostly Italian wines was really good.

The same goes for books and plays. We may not have the power and exposure of a restaurant or theater critic for the New York Times or other important and widely read newspaper, but we have a little bit of clout with whomever reads our reviews on social media—and it could number in the hundreds or more.

Our general rule of thumb after being the recipients of others’ opinions of our books and articles—mostly great, thank goodness, but a few tough to stomach--is to be thoughtful, kind and constructive in criticism. If that veal parmigiana was tough and too salty, say so but nicely. “It had a bit too much salt for my taste, and sadly it didn’t melt in my mouth as I had hoped. But there were lots of other choices on the menu that seemed appealing. Someone else in my party had the ravioli with pumpkin in brown butter sauce and loved it.”

Now we ask that you voice your opinion. If you didn’t care for this blog, tell is why and how we can do better. If you did enjoy it, let us know that as well. We’re all ears.



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