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“I can see it from both sides”

Monday, October 26, 2009
posted by Rita Handrich

old woman young girlThis is one of the scariest comments uttered during jury selection.  The scary part is that it has little meaning, but if you aren’t politely persistent, it can hide the truth.  The problem is that “I can see it from both sides” is the cognitive equivalent of “I am still breathing”.  Unlike the image to the left, which might be initially awkward to visualize in both forms, the two sides of an issue are pretty easily spotted, especially since the jurors have just been told what the two sides are.   What is left unsaid is “I can see both sides, but I like what I see on one side much more than the other”.  What the response means is, “I don’t want to have to think very hard about my assumptions or preferences”.  Not meaningful, not helpful, and you might be stuck with it.  [The implications of this message for voir dire will be dealt with in an upcoming entry in our “Simple Jury Persuasion” series.]

Mock jurors often make this statement in group deliberations as they attempt to articulate the opposing parties’ positions.  While they often present a superficial understanding of “both sides”, sometimes their belief that they understand things thoroughly can be pretty shocking.

This past week, I ran across the info-graphic illustrating American political views created by David McCandless & Stefanie Posavec.  It is more insightful than the cartoonish format would initially suggest. Their work depicts a wealth of information on values, attitudes and beliefs that normally takes books to communicate. Instead, they offer up a modern version of the pictogram with amazing amounts of information from both liberal/progressive and more conservative points of view.

In a way, this is a lesson for litigators. Simply because of the amount of time you spend on a case, you develop a form of tunnel vision. You see your side. As for the other side? Much harder.

That is why, when preparing for a mock trial or focus group, we recommend that lead counsel takes on the opposing counsel role. It’s the very best way to see things from their perspective, and, in so doing, you also see holes in your own case that were not visible to you before.

The act of taking on the ‘other’ perspective, allows you to both see and hear things differently. A recent study profiled in Science Daily illustrates that how you present/articulate/characterize your side of the story defines precisely who will hear it and who will not hear, or perhaps even distort it. When even experienced litigators are fearful of rolling the dice with a jury trial, it makes a lot of sense to consider that other perspective and craft your case presentation to increase your odds of being heard by both sides.

The image on this post is a famous example of seeing something from both sides—the optical illusion allows you to see either an old woman or a young girl.

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