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We act as we believe others expect us to act

Monday, January 18, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

PsyBlog recently posted about a classic study where researchers examined how attractiveness was related to stereotypes about sociability, humorousness and intelligence. What they found, of course, is that when we believe others think we are attractive—we then appear as more scintillating, sociable and amusing. Their conclusion is that this offers an explanation of why we are different across various social situations.

So imagine you are concerned about how the jury will react to you. You’ve had limited trial experience and you expect that they will figure it out and as you think about it you become increasingly anxious. What the research just described would say about this is that your negative thinking is going to shoot you in the veritable foot.

Instead, visualize how you wish you would present yourself in voir dire.  Then do it.  Smile. Make eye contact. ‘Like’ the jurors. Appear confident. Show self-effacing humor. Set the tone early on for the jury to see you as likeable, attractive, intelligent and reasonable. As the trial goes on, you are more scintillating and intelligent and entertaining than usual. Which makes you more credible and believable. Hmmm.

Maybe you have a big deposition coming up. A ‘friend’ sent you a videotaped deposition of “how we do it in Texas” and after you stop laughing hysterically you begin to wonder if this is really how you are supposed to depose someone in the Lone Star State. It certainly isn’t what you intended to do.  Then you realize that your friend sent it to you to break your anxiety.  A friend indeed!

So breathe. Think about your goal.  Be grateful that your deposition is not likely to involve fisticuffs with a senior citizen. Be polite and follow your plan.

We are different in various situations. But fortunately we have choices about how we’ll approach different people and situations. Challenge your intrusive anxious thoughts about performance. Play the role of a confident, likable, intelligent attorney a few times and it becomes second nature. It’s who you are. It’s what you do.

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