CLEAR COMMUNICATION IN A TIME OF PANDEMIC & POLITICS

Trial lawyers should always strive for clear and understandable communications when dealing with juries. However, we are now in a crisis involving politics and medical pandemic. During periods of crises like this, people are distracted by the fears and challenges created. They have trouble processing information. That is due to the large amount of communications they receive about these problems on a frequent basis. We trial lawyers should keep this in mind regarding our trial presentations. We need to be aware of people’s fears and concerns. People are being flooded with conflicting information about both the political situation as well as the pandemic. This causes an enhanced concern about the reliability of information they receive generally. The result is confusion and a mistrust of all information. That is why we need to avoid mixed messages, confusion or a mistrust of information being provided our jurors.

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That is why trial lawyers should concentrate on refining the message being delivered to jurors so that it is clear and understandable. Some of the basic policies trial lawyers should follow in their jury communications include these.

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Be Real & Be Truthful

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Your message as a trial lawyer rests upon the juror’s willingness to trust you. If you are not trustworthy your message is also not trustworthy as far as jurors are concerned. The first rule of being trustworthy is to always tell the truth. All people have inherent skill to figure out whether the person communicating with them is a genuine human being or someone is trying to spin a message like a salesperson. There is a great power in honesty and truthfulness. We show honesty when we demonstrate vulnerability by acknowledging our own feelings of inadequacies. When we do that we are seen as someone who can be trusted. If you want to be believed you must drop all pretense and concealment of things, we do not want others to see or know about us. Be transparent and be honest.

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Use Clear, Short and Understandable Language

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The goal of clear communication is to avoid misunderstanding from emotions that might be involved and misunderstanding through miscommunication. For the same reason, our communication should be not only clear but accurate so that we are perceived as a trustworthy person. When people are emotionally involved, they tend to be less able to grasp the meaning of the communication. Our words should be precise to avoid any mixed message. Remember, people do not trust what they do not understand. The clearer and more unambiguous you can be, the more likely it will be understood and accepted.

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Choose your Words Carefully

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Under stress, people tend to focus on details and each word in the communication instead of the overall context. You should choose your words carefully because each word has power. Before deciding how to frame the communication think about it from every angle of possible interpretation. The goal is to avoid misinterpretation. The arrangement of the communication and its framing should be accurate but not inflammatory or condescending. We know that people tend to subconsciously process statements that are positive and ignore the negative portion of a communication. For example, when President. Nixon famously proclaimed ”I am not a crook” linguistic experts recognized that it would be received at a subconscious level as

”I am a crook.” Therefore, frame information as “dos” and not “don’ts.” Frame your communications as positive statements.

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Be Redundant – Repeat & Repeat

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Trial lawyers often are unaware of what advertisers clearly understand and that is the need for repeating a message before it is embedded in the listeners long-term memory. Messages must be repeated and reinforced to be remembered or accepted. There is no fixed magic number that fits all situations as to the number of times to repeat a key message. The best-known rule is “the rule of seven.” This rule suggests that a consumer needs to hear an advertising message seven times before they will consider acting. What is established, however, is that a basic message should be repeated, and most experts suggest a minimum is three times. It is well known that combining exhibits or action with the message helps it to be remembered. Do not overlook the benefit of anchoring either. This well-established psychological principle is widely used in advertising  and involves connecting a message to an action or specific thing. Think of the famous experiments of Pavlov’s dogs. The combining of the ringing of the bell and feeding the dogs resulted in the dogs reacting in the same way when just the bell was rung, and no food was present. When we consciously state a message while adopting specific action or object and do it often enough in an identical way, the message automatically comes to mind even not spoke when the action or object is used in the same way.

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The Most Important Rule of Communication is Listening

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A great communicator is a great listener. It is essential that you let people know you are listening if you want them to listen to your message. Showing understanding and being empathetic is particularly to important to good communication during a crisis of like we are having now. Expressions acknowledging the challenges jurors are facing and exhibiting compassion for their discomfort increases the chance that your message will be heard and acted upon. Your goal is trustworthiness. Showing that your message is from a genuine, caring person is important in demonstrating trustworthiness. Remember to demonstrate unity or membership in the same “tribe” as the jurors by a message of” we” as a team working together. People are significantly more motivated when working in connections with others. Show that you are all on a journey together for a result will benefit them.

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The Message Should Involve the Big Picture

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Be sure your messages communicate a big picture analysis of the issues involved. Unnecessary details in your communications benefit the defendant by sowing uncertainty, confusion, and irrelevant issues. Your message should be one that is in context with the core issues and focuses on the bigger picture. The broader context also inspires action by raising the issues to one which can benefit the jurors, their families, or the community. A broad goal tends to unite a group. The goal should be inspirational because that reinforces motivation to act on it.

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Conclusion

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The need for clear communication exists in all our trials. These policies of good communication apply in ordinary times but are particularly significant now in times of crisis. The present media misrepresentations and lies plus the conflicts and disputes have created a unique situation of skepticism and mistrust. Complicating these times even more is the impact of the pandemic on how we try our cases to juries. These complications make good communication a complete necessity. We need to learn the best techniques.

About Paul Luvera

Plaintiff trial lawyer for 50 years. Past President of the Inner Circle of Advocates & Washington State Trial Lawyers Association. Member American Board of Trial Advocates, American College of Trial Lawyers, International Academy, International Society of Barristers, member of the National Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame & speaker at Spence Trial College
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