The art of persuasion

While we were in Costa Rica I had time to read some books. A couple of them had helpful information for trial lawyers. Here’s a passage from the book Born standing up: A comic’s Life by Steve Martin about the subject of anchoring. I’ve written about this important idea previously in this blog, but I hadn’t realized that comics use the technique to coax a laugh out of an audience.:

“A skillful comedian could coax a laugh with tiny indicators such as a vocal tic (Bob Hope’s “But I wanna tell ya” ) or even a slight body shift. Jack E. Leonard used to punctuate jokes by slapping his stomach with his hand. One night I noticed on the Tonight Show that several of his punch lines had been unintelligible and the audience actually laughed at nothing but the cue of his hand slap.”

Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin & Robert B. Cialdini is a gold mine of helpful information for trial lawyers. Here are few of the things the book suggests:1. In the movie Return of the Jedi there is a scene where Luke Skywalker turns to Darth Vader and says ” I know there’s still good in you. There’s good in you, I can sense it” This is known as the labeling technique which involves assigning a trait, attitude, belief or other label to a person and then making a request consistent with that label. People are inclined to act consistent with the label given them.2.To get around existingattitudes it is necessary to free people from their commitment to the attitude and at the same time avoid labeling it a mistake they have made. One way is to praise their ideas as correct “at the time they made it” and were the right ones “given the evidence and information they had at the time.” One then shows why your situationeither calls for a different attitude oris an exception to the attitude or is, in fact, really consistentwith the attitude. This allows the other person to adopt your idea without a loss of face.Remember”It is easier to lead a horse in the direction the horse wants to go.”3.Giving the listener the qualifications of the speaker enhances the acceptance of the message. It is never true that “this is a speaker who needs no introduction” because the introduction is not for the speaker, but for the audience and explains why they should listen. Research indicates that having an intermediary praise your qualifications is much more effective then if you do it yourself. Avoid tooting your own horn.4.Should you ignore problems with your case or argument and let the other side point them out instead? Research shows that arguing against your self interest, including drawbacks to your position, creates the perception that you are honest and trustworthy. That’s why advertisers do it. For example, Motel 6: “Our rooms aren’t fancy, but our prices aren’t fancy” or Listerine: “The taste you hate three times a day.” In one study, when jurors heard a lawyer mention a weakness in his case before the opposing lawyer brought it up, they evaluated him as more trustworthy and were more favorable to his case because of a perceived honesty. Trial is always a race for disclosure of the truth and the plaintiff should always be the first one todisclose the good, the bad and the ugly.5.Similarities between people always enhances thelikability andbelievability of the person.I’ve discussed mirroring in this blog.In one study when the reachers mirrored the other person e.g. leaning back in their chair when the other person did it, the two parties reached an agreement 67% of the time compared to only 12.5% when there was no mirroring.6.Small changes in how we ask for things can make a difference. For example, if you are making a request, you should add one word and that word is “because.” In a studyresearcher’s asked people in line to be allowed to go in front of them to use a copy machine saying “Excuse me. I have five pages to copy. May I go ahead of you.” However, other people were asked the same question but the speakeradded “because” I have to get this done as soon as possible.” When a reason was added the compliance rate was 94% compared to only 67% without a reason.7.I have preached over and over the importance of using simple language. Lawyers are afflicted with the idea that the bigger the word and more complex the statement, the more intelligent they appear. They use big words to show how smart they are. But, what trial lawyers should be working on is making every word and every statement as clear and understandable as possible. Research shows that overly complex language produces a reaction of the speaker or writer as less convincing and less intelligent then simple understandable language. Your messages should be clear and simple.8.One interesting fact from the book was that momentary distractions create a more favorable reception to a statement. For example, in a study, people selling Christmas cards would give the price in pennies instead of full price and quickly say “it’s a bargain.” The study showed that during this instant of momentary distraction if a persuasive statement (“it’s a bargain”) isinsertedit is more likely to be accepted. In the study, sales went up. In a similar study involving the sale of cupcakes, the team would described them not as cup cakes but as “half cakes” and then quickly say, “they are delicious” with the same result.9.I have had some embarrassing miscommunication with e-mail where the message was totally misconstrued. Research has demonstrated that miscommunication is more likely to occur through email then by face to face or even telephone conversations. Voice inflection and physician characteristics are key non verbal cues missing from emails.

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