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. When addressing a jury, some other psychological foundational elements to consider, which are raised in the article include the use of metaphors, humor, and technology.

Metaphors are verbal images that help your jury/listener to envision the facts. We are not talking about sweeping exaggerations. A bull in a china shop is a cliché but it gets the point across. Another area to consider when using metaphors is the community in which you are speaking. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. In other words, if you are in Dallas, talk about immigration. When in Miami, talk about the sea level rising. When in Chicago mention the shoreline. When in Ohio mention the lake effect for the north. When in New York, especially over this past winter, work in the blizzard-to-flood experienced in Buffalo. Sometimes men and even women make the mistake of using sports metaphors, which are not such a good idea as not all jurors, male and female are sports enthusiasts. When you can, use something the jurors can relate to without feeling or thinking you are insensitive. For example, a snowstorm in November is not unheard of, just unexpected. A lava flow in Hawaii is not unlike how your opponent made their way to the end of their journey, deliberate, slow and destructive. You get the picture :). Humor is not for litigators or forensic psychologists. Think of the big goof made by the defense in the Zimmerman trial. Schafer and Waers remind us of the Knock – Knock joke. Knock – Knock. Who’s there? George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman, who? Oops. You just made a poor attempt at being Stephen Colbert, John Oliver or Jon Stewart. Even if you are funny the trial, personal communication or presentation to colleagues may not be the forum for your comedy act. Reconsider your attempt to be humorous. But don’t forget to liberally use the other “h” words; humility, honesty and honorable.

Use the technology available. As the juror pool gets younger, more Generation Xs and Millennials will fill the seats. They are “mobile phone, social media, and technology” savvy. They want and expect their information in “sound bite” time frames. Poster boards and verbal storytelling will not captivate or maintain their interest. You may want to inquire at Voir dire their cell phone versus landline phone usage, their means of gathering news (think Reddit, Circa, Flipboard, Flicker, etc.). Inquire about their favorite apps. When you get a blank stare to your question about which apps they like the most you will have identified the less than “smartphone” panelist.

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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