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Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Time for an update on who lies, why they lie, and how you can spot them. We’ve written a lot about deception in the past but there’s always more to say (believe it or not). We’re going to cover several articles in this post and discuss each of them briefly so you can explore the items in greater depth if they strike a chord of interest.

60% of us lie in everyday conversation 

When we think of liars, we often think of “them”. But new research out of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst says it is more common than not to lie routinely and often. The study used 121 pairs of undergraduates who were told the purpose of the study was to examine how people interact when they meet someone new. They all had ten minutes to converse but some were told to make themselves seem likable, some were told to make themselves appear competent, and others (the control group) were not told to present themselves in any specific way. After the interaction, the research participants were shown videotapes of the interaction and asked to point out any lies they had told.

The researchers found that, in their research sample, “60% lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation and told an average of two or three lies”.

It’s hard to say if this rate of lying would occur in interactions where no one is told to behave or present themselves in a certain way. But it makes it clear that if you are trying to make a good impression, you may lie more often than not. And if you are talking with someone who is likely attempting to impress you, take their claims with a grain of salt.

Spotting a liar

We routinely see how-to articles on spotting a liar but it is easier said than done. Here’s one from NBC News that tries to summarize the research on deception but ends up sensationalizing the results a bit (aka perhaps lying). They say that if you say you never lie, you are a liar and they comment on how poorly people fare when they attempt to detect deception. And then they give you “five steps to becoming a human lie detector” and give glossy explanations of how to understand the research. We think this one is worth your time if you want a quick overview of the research and want to see how people learn their information and misinformation on spotting deception.

Are scheming and dishonesty just part of being human?

Finally here’s an article from National Geographic on “why” we lie. This is a really wide-ranging article that shares a lot of information on various types of lies and liars as well as the motivations for lying by various people. It will teach you a lot about hoaxers, con artists, and visual artists that try to fool you, and enlighten you on things that are, in fact, lies—but also very cool and funny. It’s a weirdly wonderful journey through the neuroscience of lying and all the motivations behind various kinds of lies. They even get to fake news and its proliferation as well as the advantages to us of all the technology available to us—and the reality that technology has opened up “a new frontier for deceit”.  And if you want even more, there is a good writeup in The Guardian of a pathological liar who was also very bright and a medical researcher. Despite his accomplishments, he just couldn’t stop lying.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, these are important areas on which to keep informed. It is important to maintain an awareness of what jurors see as “indicators” of deception—whether those indicators are truly indicative of deception or not. The more you know about what people assume, the better you can prepare witnesses and the better you can monitor your own distracting non-verbal behaviors that might just make some juror solemnly declare to others in the deliberation room that you were obviously lying in your closing statement.

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Today’s highlighted research looks at ways to communicate with people who ignore evidence that contradicts their beliefs and values. This tendency is called “dogmatism” and essentially reflects one’s (un)willingness to revise their beliefs when presented with new evidence. And some people simply will not revise their beliefs no matter what the evidence! We’ve all seen it—the self-appointed expert who knows they are right while others are so very wrong. In fact, we’ve seen it so often in pretrial research that we wrote a post on a way to dethrone that self-appointed expert.

This is a very interesting study that may be much more broadly applicable to cherished beliefs in general (e.g., your eating habits, your political opinions, and your beliefs about climate change and evolution) rather than only to religion (which is what these researchers studied). In brief, the researchers looked at what factors drove dogmatism in people who were religious versus those who were not religious.

And they found a strange similarity: Regardless of whether you were in the religious or not-religious group—if you were a critical thinker, you were less dogmatic. But when you factor in moral concerns—the two groups have very different responses.

For religious people, emotional resonance (i.e., something that ‘feels’ right to you) results in more certainty—if a position is more morally correct from their perspective—the more certain they feel.

So, the researchers say, to effectively communicate your information, you should appeal to the religious dogmatist’s sense of moral concern. Identify their strongly held position, and support the way it applies to your case, and emphasize that “wrong is wrong”.

For nonreligious people, a position involving moral concerns actually results in less certainty.

For this group, the researchers say, to effectively communicate your information, you should appeal to the non-religious dogmatists unemotional logic. Reinforce the moral position (to the extent that it is widely held) and offer the evidence and reasoned judgment that everyone wants.

The researchers also say that whether the person was religious or not, the more rigid the individual (whether rigidly religious or rigidly logical)—the less likely the person was to be empathic (i.e., consider the perspectives of others).

From a litigation advocacy perspective, you want to be able to talk to both extremes (the religious dogmatist and the nonreligious dogmatist). Of course in an ideal world, you would not have people with strong dogmatism and/or rigidity on your jury. Since the world of voir dire and jury selection is an imperfect one, you want to build both moral concerns and logic into your case narrative.

This research really focuses on what we have talked about and blogged about for many years. You need to tell a story that resonates with the strongly held beliefs and problem-solving approaches to which jurors relate. Without appearing to pander, talk about moral right and wrong. For the dogmatic and non-religious jurors, go through the evidence that establishes the case. But you can also anchor it to the moral guideposts that the religiously dogmatic rely on, it deepens the connection.

The result of getting it just right is that both personality types will hear you supporting their sensibilities for reaching a verdict.

Friedman, JP Jack AI 2017 What makes you so sure? Dogmatism, fundamentalism, analytic thinking, perspective taking, and moral concern in the religious and nonreligious. Journal of Religion and Health.

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We’d really rather call this the “34 reasons you should get up and talk face-to-face rather than emailing or texting effect” but that’s probably why we’re not academics. It’s become habitual to email or text even when it is faster and perhaps easier to walk across the hall, over to another cubicle, or even take a quick ride up the elevator to speak to a colleague in person. But once you read the results of this study you may start moving around—especially when you really want someone you do not know to do something for you.

Today’s study is from researchers in Canada and the US and it’s all about our unreliable estimate of compliance by others when we make direct requests. The researchers call it the “underestimation of compliance effect” which we must admit is not particularly catchy. But the takeaway is pretty catchy for sure. Here it is:

Despite your belief that you are persuasive in emails to those you have not met, you are 34 times more persuasive in face-to-face communication.

34x you say? How can that be true? And how can they say that precise number (34x)? Apparently most of us overestimate our powers of persuasion in text and underestimate our powers of persuasion in person. The second author of this paper wrote up a plain language version of the paper for Harvard Business Review (and oddly, the summary is as long as the article itself). In the HBR piece, she offers a brief comment that explains the takeaway:

Imagine you need people to donate to a cause you care about. How do you get as many people as possible to donate? You could send an email to 200 of your friends, family members, and acquaintances. Or you could ask a few of the people you encounter in a typical day—face-to-face—to donate. Which method would mobilize more people for your cause?

Despite the reach of email, asking in person is the significantly more effective approach; you need to ask six people in person to equal the power of a 200-recipient email blast. Still, most people tend to think the email ask will be more effective.

So why does this happen? The researchers say that people you do not know are suspicious of links in emails (they were being asked to have strangers complete a survey which was housed online) and think you are untrustworthy. Conversely, the sender (that would be you) knew they were not trying to trick the recipient and that the URL was trustworthy. The sender simply failed to consider the recipients perspective (i.e., someone I don’t know wants me to click on an untrustworthy link).

The researchers did a second study where they found that “nonverbal cues requesters conveyed during a face-to-face interaction” made the difference in how legitimate the recipient thought they were—yet, the requester was oblivious to these cues.

From an office management (not to mention effectiveness) perspective, you may want to encourage communications between co-workers—even if they don’t know each other—to occur in a face-to-face interaction rather than in a text-based communication. When the person you are encouraging to discuss the issue in person rolls their eyes and considers you hopelessly “old school”, you can just whip out this study (or the article in Harvard Business Review) and let them know you are on top of new knowledge. They can get up and move and talk face-to-face—not because it’s “nice”, but because it works 34x better.

Roghanizad, MM Bohns, VK 2017 Ask in person: You’re less persuasive than you think over email. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 69, 223-226.

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We’ve written about CRISPR (aka human gene editing) before, and wanted to share this new survey with you. When last we blogged, it was to cover the Pew survey on fears about gene editing (and the potential for creation of a super-human). As you can imagine, there was some ambivalence over whether this was a good thing, as well as concerns about the creation of a society where genetically enhanced people ruled those who were not genetically enhanced. Here’s what we wrote a year ago: .

You may be surprised at how ambivalent the public is about using these new tools. As Pew says, “Americans are more worried than enthusiastic” about how these tools will be used. And, as this technology veers more and more into public awareness, being aware of the ambivalence with which Americans view this ground-breaking technology is going to become increasingly important for trial lawyers.

So we were surprised to see a new headline in the online publication The Verge saying that ⅔ of Americans now approve of human gene editing to treat disease. It seemed odd since just last year, Pew’s survey told us this about sick little babies:

Even when it comes to gene editing with the promise of helping prevent diseases for their own babies [emphasis added]—48% support the idea and 50% do not.

And now ⅔ of Americans support gene editing? It just seemed like too sudden a turn around. And—as it turns out, it was. You have probably figured out by now that this is just the latest in a string of directives from us to go to the original source to make sure things are interpreted correctly in secondary source materials.

While the Verge article is based on the full survey results, it does not accurately reflect the ambivalence in the actual survey published by Science Magazine. The graphic illustrating this post shows you that what the headline writers over at The Verge did was to count those who supported human gene editing for specific use as a therapeutic tool to correct disease in human beings. But that leaves out a big part of the picture.

This headline does not include the concerns of those who don’t want the changes to be hereditary and thus change the human germline [aka, these changes would now be inheritable] down the road—which would ostensibly mean that if you are going to have gene editing done, you must either be a male or agree never to have children if you are female so that the germline remains unchanged by human intervention.

And, as you might intuitively predict, what the Science Magazine survey really showed us was that people who had high levels of knowledge on gene editing were more likely to support its use, while those who were religiously active were less likely to support the use of gene editing on humans due to ethical and moral concerns. What both groups agreed on, however, was that scientists should not make these choices alone. Both groups wanted scientists to somehow “engage the public” in a dialogue so that the eventual use of human gene editing would be one that reflected the concerns and wishes of all of American society. That’s a pretty tall bar.

We know that how you ask a question makes a huge difference. If someone is asked whether they think gene editing should be used to protect people from hereditary diseases, they may initially agree. However, when you then ask if they would agree to allow those changes to ‘permanently change the human germline’, you see more resistance to the entire process of human gene editing. As we said back when we blogged on the Pew survey of American attitudes toward gene editing,

From a litigation advocacy perspective, these responses are not necessarily intuitive. While we might intuit that allowing babies to be born without diseases would be a positive thing, respondents did not necessarily agree. They see it as being more complex. Although the parents of that baby struggling with a serious disease would likely strongly support the new technology for helping their child, others might well say “that sounds good, but this is a slippery slope and where will it lead?”.

As with all “hot button” issues, this is one that will require careful pretrial research to identify the most effective way to tell a story that will not set off knee-jerk morally based reactions to the use of new technologies. People want to feel safe from disease, but also from a world where science fiction movies come to life. Equally uncertain is how people see the role of government in nurturing innovation while protecting the public from science run amok.

We think those recommendations still make sense today. When you have an exciting whiz-bang technology like CRISPR, you may get so excited about it that you presume jurors will be excited (and support your case) too. But slow down—with any great advance in technology, there is also often great fear, so do some pretrial research to see how mock jurors respond to your presentation of the technology. It’s likely going to be a pretty complicated response that will require refining your presentation in ways you might not predict.

Dietram A. Scheufele, Michael A. Xenos, Emily L. Howell, Kathleen M. Rose, Dominique Brossard, Bruce W. Hardy. U.S. attitudes on human genome editing. Science Magazine, 11 AUGUST 2017 VOL 357 ISSUE 6351.

Images taken from Science Magazine article cited above

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Every once in a while we run across a tip in the social sciences research that is just begging to be used in litigation advocacy. A while back we found a UK researcher named Tim Perfect who told us a very simple thing: “When you want to increase both volume and accuracy in witness recall, don’t have them tell a story backwards. Just have them close their eyes! It really does increase the number of accurate observations recalled.” We liked his work so much we asked him to write up his research for publication in The Jury Expert (where many others have liked it as well!).

And today, we have another wonderful tidbit of the same sort for you. Anyone who has prepared witnesses for courtroom testimony or deposition knows it can be an anxiety-provoking experience. Witnesses who are anxious will fidget, squint, lick their lips, contort their bodies, rock back and forth in their chairs, or stick their fist in their mouths as we saw in one very unfortunate mock trial example. Jurors take note of these things and, often, come to the conclusion that the witness is lying as opposed to showing anxiety. So for all those who have tried to calm an anxious witness down, here’s an easy (and free) strategy that requires no specialized fMRI equipment or high-tech accoutrements.

Just use pronouns.

How? It is a simple strategy and (in truth) one both of us have used in previous professional lives helping psychotherapy clients manage their own anxieties in stressful situations. What you want is to help the person see themselves testifying as though they were watching a movie of themselves and not projecting their anxieties as they imagine themselves testifying.

The research on which we base this recommendation was summarized at ScienceDaily where the authors said this:

Before any potentially stressful event, people often engage in self-talk, an internal dialogue meant to moderate anxiety.

This kind of self-reflection is common, according to Mark Seery, a University at Buffalo psychologist whose new study, which applied cardiovascular measures to test participants’ reactions while giving a speech, suggests that taking a “distanced perspective,” or seeing ourselves as though we were an outside observer, leads to a more confident and positive response to upcoming stressors than seeing the experience through our own eyes. The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology [snip] illustrate how the strategic use of language in the face of tension helps people feel more confident.

It’s something sports psychologists do routinely—they help athletes visualize themselves executing an action successfully. When we did this with psychotherapy clients, we often asked them to observe themselves from a perspective well above the situation in which they found themselves. They could be like a fly on the wall (or see themselves sitting in a chair oddly positioned up by the ceiling) and describe what was happening to “that person” (who was actually them) in the interaction. Then they could play out (like in a movie) how they wanted “that person” to behave and practice doing it that way.

This is a strategy easily generalizable for use in the preparation of witnesses for courtroom or deposition testimony. For example, you might ask the person what they imagine as they consider testifying in court (or deposition) and (if they are anxious about it) they will probably say something like this:

The idea of all those people staring at me makes me short of breath and sweaty feeling. It just really scares me.

You want them to change that self-talk using pronouns to something like this:

When Doug thinks about testifying, Doug is anxious about all the people watching him.

And then, over time and witness preparation, to something like this:

When Doug testifies, the goal he focuses on is being calm, listening carefully, and accurately telling his truth. Doug understands the importance of communicating clearly to the jury and believes he can do that effectively while still being truthful.

You may be concerned that this sort of “self-distancing” strategy would lead to a witness who seems disconnected from their testimony. According to the researchers, you needn’t be concerned. Again, here is an excerpt from the summary over at ScienceDaily:

“We found that self-distancing did not lead to lower task engagement, which means there was no evidence that they cared less about giving a good speech. Instead, self-distancing led to greater challenge than self-immersion, which suggests people felt more confident after self-distancing.”

Seery points out that some of the most important moments in life involve goal pursuit, but these situations can be anxiety provoking or even overwhelming. “Self-distancing may promote approaching them with confidence and experiencing them with challenge rather than threat.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is exactly where you want a witness to be as they consider testifying. You want them to see it as a challenge rather than a threat. Using pronouns to help them distance from the anxiety while rising to the challenge of testifying may help the anxious witness bridge that transition.

Streamer, L Seery, MD Kondrak, CL Lamarche, VM Salesman, TL 2017. Not I, but she: The beneficial effects of self-distancing on challenge/threat cardiovascular responses. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 70, 235-241.

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