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Simply Resisting Persuasion: Digressing

Friday, January 28, 2011
posted by Douglas Keene

We’ve been doing our series on Simple Jury Persuasion for a while now and thought it might also be good to illustrate some of the most common ways we see people trying to resist persuasion (and then provide you ways to counter their resistance.  Researchers (and even popular writers) have studied this topic for years.

In a way that is only partly ironic, I have long asserted that I don’t believe in ‘persuasion’.  Rather, what I believe in is the ability to reduce resistance.  An assertion that meets no resistance is experienced as persuasive, but instead of adding an ingredient (trust and belief) to their evaluation of the facts, you are removing one (skepticism, mistrust).  So it may look like persuasion, but its actually about ways you will see jurors resist what you have to say.  The goal is to tell the story in a way that aligns with their values, and consequently encounters less resistance.

We’ll look at one strategy per post and this series won’t be nearly as long as our ongoing Simple Jury Persuasion strategies. It’s meant simply as a set of tools for you to use when bad things happen.


We all know what digression is—it’s what politicians do when they don’t like your question (also known as ‘artful dodging’). It’s what an untrustworthy other does when they have done something about which you should be concerned. It’s a powerful tactic to divert your attention and make you forget the actual question that elicited the dodge. In court, their digression and your response may look like this:

“Please tell us why your product is better than theirs.”

“Thanks for asking that question. You know, I’ve really wanted to talk about how we developed the product that millions of people worldwide have used and appreciated…”

“Excuse me, I want to make sure you heard the question correctly. The question is not about product marketing but about product quality. Again, please tell us why your product is better than theirs.”

You are neither rude nor agitated.  You can even express the same confusion that the jurors might be experiencing (thus aligning with them:

“I don’t think I heard an answer to the question.  Let’s try it again…”

You are simply focused on the task at hand (and on not wasting the jury’s time).
Jacks, J., & Cameron, K. (2003). Strategies for Resisting Persuasion Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 25 (2), 145-161 DOI: 10.1207/S15324834BASP2502_5

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