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Techniques of Influence


A.        Priming:  People can be trusted to return their thoughts to a target issue through effective use of the “priming” technique. Priming uses subtle messages early on in the set-up stage to get a juror thinking about the issue in a substantive way without overtly referencing back to elements or aspects of the case at hand.


If you were litigating a case for increased custody of your own children for example, you might seek to prime the court decision-makers, perhaps by mentioning a recent study of the benefits of two-parent involvement in the lives of children.


B.        Credibility:  People are more readily influenced by a source they believe and perceive to be credible and jurors are no different. They search for and appreciate credibility and can listen longer and give more weight to an advocate they regard as trustworthy. Judges and jurors tend to evaluate a litigant’s credibility based on several issues:


  • Personal appearance – appearing both professionally competent and approachable
  • Personal confidence – secure in your own skin
  • Personal presentation – using powerful language and speech techniques such as analogies, metaphors, repetition and word pictures to convey a solid grasp of the issues and sense of direction
  • Personal competence – qualified and expert in the field of subject matter, you know what you’re talking about


C.        Consistency:  The quickest way to destroy your credibility in the eyes of the judge or the jury is for them to realize some inconsistency in your case or presentation. Have you ever been reading a story or watching a movie that was otherwise engrossing only to catch the authors in a glaring inconsistency. For most people, that moment marks the abrupt end of their willingness to endure the reading or the watching. Instead, the inconsistency becomes the sole focus of the rest of their attention and likely the only they will share with others about the story.


Human beings crave consistency. It is expected and practically universal among us and we use it to govern fashion our understanding of the world. Because of this, when it is derailed by some glaring inconsistency, we tend to spiral into a condition known as dissonance – the mental equivalent of a train wreck in which we sputter in confusion and stop and wait and back up and search for some consistency to just where the wheels rolled off the tracks so we can figure out the inconsistency.


In any trial jurors weigh reams of incoming data – information often confusing and contradictory – sifting information and discarding what doesn’t fit their perceptions or is otherwise incongruent.


Remember the O.J. Simpson trial when Simpson tried on the black gloves, the ones found at the murder scene? The gloves seemed a little snug to the jurors and there was some question whether the gloves were even the right size for his hand. Johnny Cochran, Simpson’s lawyer, played the situation toward the jurors’ doubts urging them - “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit?”


D.        Inoculation:  Prof. Butterfield comments that the Korean War was the first war that involved American servicemen in what became known as brainwashing. The public, at a loss to explain seeming acts of treason by American POWs, came to believe that some clever cocktail of physical deprivation and torture was responsible. Actually, as Butterfield writes, “The evidence suggests otherwise. The brainwashing sessions did not necessarily include torture, but rather featured a lengthy debate between the captured soldier and a skillful questioner. And the debate was about America and American beliefs about freedom, democracy, and equality.”


“Amazingly, many of our soldiers had great difficulty defending their political and social beliefs. They believed that democracy was the best form of government, but they could not explain why this was true. And their captors merely attacked these simply held beliefs until the soldiers began to doubt their validity. After that the road to ‘treason’ was easy.” [5] 


The process of brainwashing or thought-reform as students of the technique call it, is organized into sets of tactics designed to separate the subject from their own psychological identity. Margaret Singer has written extensively on the use of thought reform by cult groups to recruit and maintain members. Three of those tactics include:


  • Destabilizing a person's sense of self
  • Getting a person to drastically reinterpret his or her life's history and radically alter his or her worldview and accept a new version of reality and causality
  • Develop in the person a dependence on the organization, and thereby turn the person into a deployable agent of the organization [6] 


What was the answer to protect American servicemen? Inoculation. Attack a soldier’s belief system early on and in small doses during basic training while simultaneously administering the information he needs to construct a defense for his belief system.


Just like in medicine, belief inoculations can be powerful influence enhancers and best of all they are dual-use weapons. They can be used on offense to strengthen a judge and juror’s existing preconceptions, reinforcing groundwork already established, or they can be used on defense to blunt an opponent’s expected attack. Inoculation is particularly effective when delivered with humor.


Empower the Decision Maker:  Judges understand their powers; most jurors do not. Most jurors think of their decision making abilities as merely advisory, that if they award damages that are too heavy or too light, the judge or the “system” will figure out what’s right and make it correct. You as the advocate (as well as the individual likely to have to live with their decision) must take it upon yourself to make the jury understand their power.


*Note:  It probably doesn’t hurt to remind the judge for that matter, since any discussion of his powers in the case will likely give you an opportunity to reinforce in detail why you’re entitled to your claim.


[1] Powerful Persuasion, Howard L. Nations, Houston Texas, copyright 2003, Law offices of Howard l. Nations

[2]Powerful Persuasion, Howard L. Nations, Houston Texas, copyright 2003, Law offices of Howard l. Nations

[3] Frontiers, Newsletter of the National Science Foundation, Has The Jury Decided? October, 1997

[4] Steve's Primer of Practical Persuasion and Influence, Prof. Steve Booth-Butterfield, West Virginia University, 2002

[5] Steve's Primer of Practical Persuasion and Influence, Prof. Steve Booth-Butterfield, West Virginia University, 2002, Chapter 8, Inoculation

[6] Cults In Our Midst, Margaret Thaler Singer, Jossey-Bass Publishers, Chap. 3, The Process of Brainwashing, Psychological Coercion, and Thought Reform

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