Tag Archives: persuasion

Attorneys, Judges, and the Perils of Powerless Speech

shutterstock149536214By Jill D. Schmid, Ph.D.

A few weeks ago I was listening to a judge give his rulings on a number of pre-trial motions. With each ruling, he began by saying, “I’m inclined to find …” The first time, I didn’t really think anything of it, but a few hours and dozens of motions later, it was clear that this judge could not make a simple and strong declarative statement. While I typically do not look for opportunities to “take on” a judge, this particular example of a powerless speaking style deserves some attention namely because of the position and also because the judge was a man.

For years, I’ve studied, lectured, and written on gender communication. The “powerful – powerless” communication continuum is part of that work and is used to describe the difference between stereotypical male vs. female communication styles. The “female” end of the continuum is often associated with “powerless” speech – speech that includes hedges and qualifiers: “perhaps,” “maybe,” “I think,” “kind of,” or “I guess”; speech that includes intensifiers: “so,” “really,” and “very”; speech that includes hesitations: “um” and “uh”; and speech that includes disclaimers: “I’m not sure, but…” or “I’m not an expert, but…” Reading these, it should be obvious that the use of these types of phrases or words weaken the statements being made. Continue reading

Don’t Tell Me To Relax: How Anger and Gender Influence Persuasion

Female boss mad for employee
By Jill D. Schmid, Ph.D.

If you’re a woman, there’s probably been at least one time in your life when someone (my money says it was a man) has told you that you “need to relax.” I’ve been told this a few times and, each time, the person pretty quickly realized it wasn’t the smartest move. Recalling these events, two thoughts come to mind: 1) I can honestly report that I wasn’t out of control, yelling, or being irrational. Instead, I was simply strongly asserting an argument about an issue – usually something political. And, 2) I’ve never witnessed or participated in a “heated” discussion and heard someone tell a man who is aggressively arguing his point that he should “relax.”

I was reminded of all of this as I read “One Angry Woman: Anger Expression Increases Influence for Men, but Decreases Influence for Women, During Group Deliberation.” The research, conducted at Arizona State University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a fascinating look into how a man’s versus a woman’s “anger” is perceived and then utilized by others when making decisions. While years of research (and real life experiences) show that women are often subjected to harsh criticism for being “too emotional” and are often labeled as “Bitches” (and worse) when behaving in similar ways to men (i.e., being aggressive or dominant in work situations), this particular study goes one step further and explores how aggressively advancing one’s position is undermined by simply being a woman. Continue reading

Why Not Just Tell the Jurors How to Deliberate?

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By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

It is a scary proposition to hand a case that you have worked on for months or years over to a jury for final adjudication. With all that’s on the line, it’s actually quite preposterous when you think about it. It took you months or years to learn enough about the case to bring it to trial and present it. Now you’ll hand the fate of all that work over to a small group of random people, who probably knew nothing about the issues in the case before they showed up for jury duty. You have no clue what they will do. All you can do is wait and hope.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. As I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, attorneys focus too much on strategies for persuasion at the expense of strategies for controlling deliberations. A persuaded juror is not necessarily an influential juror and this is important because the safest bet for any attorney is to assume there will be some division amongst the jurors when they enter that deliberation room. Strategies for persuasion do very little for the attorney in this scenario. Either they were persuaded or they were not. Now, the jurors need to figure out how to resolve the division and render a verdict. Continue reading

Big Words Don’t Make You Sound So Smart

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By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

Most attorneys understand the obvious and immediate downside to using big words at trial. A key component of effective persuasion is comprehension. Audiences need to understand what you are saying. This drives action. People act on things that are easy to understand and re-articulate. Consider the results of one study where researchers found that consumers are more likely to buy products that describe features with simple language than they are products that describe features using complex language.

In another study, researchers found that the fluency (ease with which it is pronounced) of a company name impacts whether or not people are willing to buy stock in that company. The authors note “fluently named stocks robustly outperformed stocks with disfluent names.” Continue reading

Lessons Learned from SJC’s Newest Consultant

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By Jill D. Schmid, Ph.D.

Let me first say I’m thrilled to be joining my former colleague, Tom, at Sound Jury Consulting. Tom and I worked together for over eight years. We share the same fundamental beliefs about our profession and how we can work with attorneys and their clients in bringing their cases to the most favorable conclusions possible. I look forward to meeting those already working with Tom, and to working with many others who are looking for a trial consulting team and firm.

Since this is could be your introduction to me, I thought I’d use my first blog to summarize a critical takeaway and some observations I’ve garnered from being a trial consultant for over a decade and a communication professor for nearly the same amount of time. What I’ve learned is that this is not rocket science; I firmly believe many of the tried and true effective communication principles that have been with us for thousands of years still apply. People might want a new fancy name or brain research to prove it’s true, but all of that doesn’t diminish the fact that people pay attention to, process, understand, remember, and apply messages that: 1) Fit with their understanding of the way the world works (i.e., their world view), and 2) Hang together (they simply make sense when taken as a whole). Continue reading

Who Are The Leaders During Jury Deliberations?

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By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

If you follow my blogs and publications, you know that one of my common phrases is, “a verdict is the product of what jurors choose to talk about during deliberations.” This is a critical point to consider during your case strategy development process. However, we can simplify this statement even more within the context of jury selection to something along the lines of, “a verdict is the product of who does the talking in deliberations.” Continue reading

Reconsidering Your Strategy Development Perspective

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By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

Regardless of the merit of the vast majority of literature out there on jury persuasion, most of it tends to have one critical shortcoming. It focuses on a vast array of persuasive techniques, ranging from the cliché “tell a story” advice to discussions of psychological principles such as primacy or recency, but what it fails to recognize is that persuasion is only one small part of a trial. That may sound absurd, but it’s a subtle distinction that just so happens to be an important one. Continue reading

Shifting the Perspective of the Case Theory to Present the Strongest Story

Perspective

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

Every successful strategy development session I have conducted with clients culminated in an “a-ha” moment, where we collectively came to some sort of realization about the case…a moment of clarity you might say…that fundamentally changed the way we presented the case at trial. These are the moments strategists live for and they are the difference makers when it comes to strategy development. The vast majority of these moments tend to result in a perspective shift for the case theory and story. In other words, the realizations usually result in telling the story from a different perspective within the confines of the case. These sort of perspective shifts can be devastating for an opponent. Perspective shifts can undermine or eliminate the offense for the other side and narrow the case in a manner that makes it difficult for the other side to prevail.

One of my favorite examples of the perspective shift in lawsuits came from attorney Mike Lewis, who was the main architect of the lawsuits brought by the States against Big Tobacco. Lewis worked for the plaintiffs in those cases. His strategy was a brilliant example of an effective perspective shift. Lewis was frustrated with the poor success rate plaintiffs had against Big Tobacco. While there was strong evidence about what Big Tobacco knew and hid from the public, Big Tobacco had a simple and powerful theme: personal choice. In other words, Big Tobacco had prevailed in so many cases because it would simply argue that the plaintiff made the choice to become a smoker. This created a simple and powerful focal points for jurors by drawing in the element of personal responsibility. This theme resonated with jurors across the country and led to low success rates for plaintiffs. Continue reading

Thinking About The Dynamic of Deliberations

A Jury deliberation room in a USA Courthouse

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

Happy New Year to all of the readers out there! I hope 2015 brings everyone the best in their litigation practices. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to provide more frequent updates to the blog in an effort to continue providing reliable and practical advice for implementing strategy over the course of a lawsuit.

One critical issue that rarely receives the attention it deserves is the dynamic of jury deliberations. Consideration of the dynamic should significantly influence decisions about strategy development, yet this rarely occurs. I think sometimes the problem is that attorneys tend to focus on persuasion as their objective when it comes to the jury. While this is certainly an important part of the process, it is still only one part of the process. Persuaded jurors do not necessarily result in favorable verdicts. As ridiculous as this may sound, it is true and I have seen it happen frequently in the hundreds of mock juries I have observed over the years. While unanimous verdicts happen, they are not necessarily common. There is usually some sort of division amongst the jurors when deliberations begin (even when they ultimately reach an unanimous verdict).
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A Simple Exercise for Effective Theme Development

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By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

Libraries have shelves and shelves of books and articles full of clever tricks and tips for developing effective case theories and themes. Some are gimmicks. Some do not come close to accomplishing what they promise. I recall hearing one story about placing a bunch of case-related words in a jar and randomly picking them out. I have seen exercises that reminded me of the old Mad Libs books from my childhood years. One of the dangers in our profession is that the givers of advice can get a little too cute or “gimmicky” in their attempts to set themselves apart from others.

In my experience, the most important exercise for effective theme development is also one of the most simple, elementary, and non-gimmicky exercises out there: systematically listing out the case weaknesses and strengths. In case strategy sessions with my clients, we post those large 3M sheets up on the wall with one or two sheets a piece devoted to the weaknesses and strengths. We start with the depressing part and focus solely on the case weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Once we have listed off every weakness or vulnerability we can think of, we change gears and do the same for the case strengths. Having the list within visual reference is extremely helpful as we move into the theme development portion of the section.

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