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Simple Jury Persuasion: The Omega Strategies

Wednesday, April 21, 2010
posted by Douglas Keene

The Omega strategies in persuasion are much less well-known than the alpha strategies (direct persuasive tactics). The Omega strategies are subtle, often indirect and work to reduce the target’s resistance to being persuaded. As we did with the Alpha strategies in last week’s Simple Jury Persuasion post, we’ll list the strategies with brief definitions and then describe how you would use these tactics in the courtroom. Some of them are useful while others are not such a good fit for the adversarial environment of trial.

  • Sidestep resistance (redefine the interaction—you are consulting not persuading). There are multiple strategies you might use to sidestep resistance. Knowles & Linn (2004) offer several of these that seem to fit in the courtroom.

Redefine the interaction: You can reframe the trial process as a sharing of facts with the jury to allow them to weigh and examine the story and determine what the best outcome is for the parties involved.

Minimizing the request: Instead of requesting a large sum of money (or opposing an amount in damages)—break down the damages you want into smaller units and explain ‘why’ that is an important figure.  Then move on to the next element of damages and explain why that one is deserved. And so on. The leap from one smaller request to another smaller request is easier for jurors than a lump sum request.  Research has also suggested that the more lines on a verdict form, the more money is awarded.

Raise the comparison: Instead of asking for the Cadillac damages package—ask for a nice Chevy with lots of extras. Then tell the jurors about the Cadillac package. This makes your very nice Chevy look reasonable in comparison.  Offering choices to the jury conveys to them your trust in their judgment.

  • Address resistance directly (address target’s reluctance by lowering costs, offering guarantees, et cetera)

While this could be risky, it has its place in your strategy toolbox.  And it needs to begin during voir dire.  Talk about why good people could feel reluctant to accept your view, and why that pull needs to be set aside.  Allow them to feel okay about the feeling, and ease their transition to a favorable conclusion.  We have come to believe that it is unlikely that you are going to come up with a point of resistance that some alert juror isn’t already stuck on.  You need to take control of that conversation if you can.

  • Address resistance indirectly (build target’s confidence, self-esteem, self-worth to remove reluctance)

Help jurors understand complex information with clear and paced testimony (including solid visuals to help in cognitive processing). As jurors become ‘more expert’ in trial-specific information, they will feel better about their capacity to process the evidence and less resistant to coming to a decision supportive of your client.  In closing, observe to the jury that some had said during voir dire that they didn’t feel qualified to judge, as they didn’t know anything about engineering, or medicine, or banking… And then remind them that you promised to provide them the necessary information, if they would provide the commitment to learn and the open mind necessary to understand.  Now they have what they need.

  • Distract resistance (distract target to interfere with their focus on counterarguments)

This is the Boston Public or Ally McBeal tactic of courtroom litigation. We don’t recommend this one either. You run the risk of appearing unprofessional or manipulative.  In criminal cases, though, it can be appealing when the stakes are all-or-nothing.

  • Use resistance to promote change (frame message so that resistance to the message promotes change—as in ‘reverse psychology’)

You probably are not surprised that we feel uncomfortable using reverse psychology (“members of the jury, please find for my opponent”) in the courtroom. However, there are also ways you can decrease resistance by simply acknowledging the resistance exists. We blog about this here. In court, you may want to use this idea as follows: “You may struggle to accept this, but…” or “This may be difficult for you to believe but it is true that…”. For some reason, mentioning resistance does not strengthen it but rather diffuses it!

Overall, the use of omega strategies in the courtroom is more complex than using the alpha strategies but may be very worthwhile. We hope you’ll consider these ideas as you plan your next trial.

Knowles, E. and Linn, J. (2004). Approach-Avoidance Model of Persuasion: Alpha and Omega Strategies for Change. In E. Knowles & J. Linn (Eds.). Resistance and Persuasion (pp. 259-282): Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: New Jersey.

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