Dr. Ken Manges, Ph.D. Forensic Psychologist

In a recent article in DRI (For the Defense, October 2014) two enterprising associate attorneys have taken on the task of mentoring their litigation colleagues by offering tactics in “Speak Psychology.” Although as a forensic psychologist and one who talks about the ability to communicate after a head injury, dementia and those experiencing Asperger’s, I take umbrage with attorneys taking the lead on persuasion and communication strategies. I must admit they have some excellent points.

In addition to telling a story, a second tip, offered by Schafer and Waers, is the use of one’s body language. When I testify about emotional trauma, a person who has suffered from a tragic loss, death of a loved one or other disabling condition, they tend to lose their ability to communicate without the interference from their trauma.

For others trying to communicate the basic rule is to be consistent. Know what you look like when you are trying to communicate honestly, disbelief, doubt etcetera. Don’t overdo the facial expressions and by all means, don’t confuse your audience. Gestures, whether facial or physical are helped to be an enhancement, not a detractor from your words. As attorneys and expert forensic witnesses, we need to be mindful of our effect on our audience, whether it be a jury, colleague or client. If they look bored, we are probably boring. But if they look away when we give them direct eye contact they may just be uncomfortable with our intensity, not necessarily our topic. Take time to pace yourself, use a tone, volume, and intensity that matches the content of your message and your facial as well as physical (hand and body) expression.

Consider your client. Are they appealing to the jury? Does their emotional trauma touch a familiar chord? If there is a head injury, if so how do they communicate? Remember, it is not all about you. Your audience includes the jury and the client you represent.

I share the belief that there are fewer opportunities to do trial work where you will get to practice and pursue your search for charismatic nirvana. But there is a desperate need and an infinite number of opportunities to communicate yourself with compassion, and clarity. Allow all of your communications to maximize your innate ability to persuade from a position of genuine belief in yourself and your client. Best regards, Dr. Ken Manges, Ph.D.

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