WHAT TRIAL LAWYERS CAN LEARN FROM DONALD TRUMP

No, I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about communication tactics employed by Donald Trump.

Omaha Nebraska jury consultant David Clark and I have engaged in an exchange of emails over a  long period of time about the general subject of communication and in particular techniques taught at the Spence Trial College. However, since the presidential campaign has become active, our communications have focused upon Donald Trump and his communication style. Not because we are particularly interested in his political positions but because we both recognized that he employed significant communication techniques most people ignored. While most people regard him  with intellectual distain and are  appalled by his verbal conduct, we believe there is a substantial amount of unrecognized communication tactics being used either knowingly or not. These are some significant techniques that we all should evaluate.

Most recently David shared with me some YouTube videos about communication in general. One video not involving Donald Trump I found particularly fascinating. It analyzed the powerful eye contact demeanor of Bill Clinton. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o_EK4EjuEY This short video carefully analyzed why Pres. Clinton had such charisma in his eye contact with other people. I have observed too many lawyers, particularly in jury selection, who do an abysmal job with eye contact while talking to jurors. While the juror is still talking they are looking down at their notes and violating other basic rules of good eye contact. This video, however, analyzes what makes good eye contact with  illustrations of President Clintonhttp://Lessons from Donald Trump for Trial Lawyers and is worth taking the time to watch.

Regarding candidate Trump, David referenced two other videos I recommend. These deal with an analysis of the subtle but powerful techniques employed by Donald Trump and illustrates them in the videos.  One of them is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LR6EA91zLo. The other video can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvVfj0ov8k8. I believe both of these are worth the time to watch them.

There are a number of blogs and websites that discuss candidate Trump’s communication tactics as well.  Michael Maslansky has written an interesting analysis in this regard. It can be found at: http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/Communication_strategies_from_Donald_Trump_20052.aspx he suggests that candidate Trump has used these five strategies to his advantage:

  1. He has a clear narrative, a master story that he sticks to
  2. He understands and taps into simple, emotional truths
  3. He speaks the language of his audience
  4. He reframes every debate question into language he prefers
  5. He is deliberately, decidedly different from his peers in both his style and approach.

Let’s look at a few of these. The master story he has created and continuously repeats is the slogan: “Make America great again.” That’s his master story and he consistently repeats that message.

The author says very correctly: “elections aren’t fought using reason; there fought using emotion.” I would insert trials are not about logic; they are about impression. The author says that the way to persuade people is to tap into what matters to them emotionally and Trump does that persistently.

Regarding the language of the people, this candidate ignores the complexity of political conversations and uses every day talk people understand. I would point out that it’s the role of the trial lawyer to eliminate big words, acronyms and complex sentences with short and simple communication.

As  to putting things  into language  he prefers, we all know the need to frame issues  correctly  and  put them into language  that favors our position.

Consider the idea of being decidedly different from his peers. We know  that in trials the first lawyer who looks,  sounds  and  acts  like a sterotyped lawyer loses. Our  job  is to be part of the tribe of  ordinary people on the jury and unlike our opponent.

The creator of the cartoon Gilbert, Scott Adams has an educational background in psychology and communication. He has written a very insightful article analyzing this subject involving Donald Trump. http://www.inc.com/peter-economy/the-6-persuasion-secrets-of-donald-trump-according-to-dilbert-s-scott-adams.html  here are some of his points:

  1. People are not primarily rational but “irrational” in their thinking process. As Adams points out people are not wired to be rational but rather have evolved in order to keep us alive.
  2. This fact is directly related to the power of appeal to emotions. Adam says that Trump completely ignores reality and rational thinking in favor of emotional appeals.
  3. Adams observes that when you appeal to emotions, the facts don’t really matter. He says:

“Trump knows psychology. He knows facts don’t matter. He knows people are irrational. While his opponents are losing sleep trying to memorize the names of foreign leaders in case someone might ask, trump knows that that is a waste of time. No one ever voted for President. based upon his or her ability to name heads of state. People vote based on emotion, period.”

  1. He has mastered identity politics. Adam says that when you are identified with the issues of Americans they are committed to you. Adam says that: “identity is always the strongest level of persuasion.” I would note that when we connect our case to the strong value systems and underlying driving issues in the case we have captured the jurors involved.

I  think you will find the videos beneficial and I recommend the next time you decide to watch Donald Trump do so with these observations in mind.

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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One Response to WHAT TRIAL LAWYERS CAN LEARN FROM DONALD TRUMP

  1. Pingback: Communication Tactics and Jury Persuasion. | The Researching Paralegal

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