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Simple Jury Persuasion: Don’t confuse argument with persuasion

Friday, January 22, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

Despite what you may have seen on the used car lot, persuasion is not a hard sell. It’s important we not lose sight of the many facets of litigation advocacy. In other words, don’t confuse argument with persuasion. You may argue your case beautifully but you still need to connect with jurors, show empathy and create some emotional response.

We blogged about Aristotle’s ideas on persuasion here. Aristotle talked about three pillars of persuasion: fact, emotion and credibility. A few hundred years later, Manallack (2002) & Hosman & Siltanen (2006) write about what they think is important in persuasion. We’ll focus on just a few of their ideas here.

Manallack writes about the importance of connecting emotionally, of infusing your facts (or evidence) with emotion, of being credible and establishing a common ground with your audience. All of these ideas are compatible with (and critically important to) your courtroom presentation.

Hosman & Siltanen focus on a more specific issue: powerful versus powerless speech patterns. Powerful speech patterns, say these two researchers, are more persuasive and powerless speech patterns tend to elicit more negative thoughts on the part of the listener.

Powerless speech patterns include indirect language, excessive use of qualifiers such as ‘like’ or ‘you know’ and sentences that end with queries—“don’t you think so?” and so on.   Passive language ( e.g., “It would be reasonable to… “ versus “It is reasonable to…”) is equally deflating.  It is a good exercise to monitor your use of these sorts of speech patterns and to remove them as much as possible from your courtroom communication.

These writers also point out that women and minorities are more likely to have powerless speech patterns. If you are female or a minority group member, increase your self-monitoring for powerless speech patterns. If you have parties, witnesses, clients who have these speech patterns, work with them to minimize or remove the powerless habit of speaking.

Communication can be powerful and persuasive without being argumentative. A hard sell isn’t necessary but clear, direct, straight-forward and confident communication goes a long way toward your credibility and persuasiveness to others.

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