In the last two blogs I’ve talked about the concept of juror as hostage. I’ve talked about the S-C
-A-R-F model from David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, and the five social needs that when threatened, can activate the survival instinct in the brain. Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. A decrease in status, a lack of certainty, a removal of autonomy, an absence of relatedness and the perception that something or someone is unfair are all perceived as threats by the brain.
In the last blog I I introduced you to the Five ‘P’s’ that will help you reverse the threat jury selection creates:
We tackled Preserve Status in the last blog, so in today’s blog, let’s move onto “Provide Certainty.”
Lack of certainty activates the survival response. Our brains are wired to view unfamiliar people and places with suspicion. If we don’t know what’s going on it feels unsafe. Until we can determine that something isn’t threatening, we assume that it is.
Jurors have little to no certainty when it comes to jury selection. Lack of certainty begins the moment a prospective juror receives a summons in the mail. “What kind of case will I be sitting on? How long will it take? When will I know if I have to be a juror?”
Once the day of jury selection comes the uncertainty continues. “What should I wear? Where is the courthouse? Is there parking?”
Once the prospective juror finds his or her way to the courthouse there’s even more uncertainty. “Which line do I stand in? Do I have to take my shoes off like at the airport when I go through security? What room do I go to?”
But once jurors get to the right place are they awarded with certainty? Nope. Now the waiting game begins. “How long do I have to wait here? What are we waiting for? When is lunch?”
When the jurors finally make it into the courtroom, they’re still not given any certainty. Now there are new people and new places to sit and an intimidating judge watching over the entire process.
The number one thing jurors need at this point is certainty. But do you, the attorney, provide it?
Most attorneys attempt to “break the ice” by asking about a juror’s hobbies or passions or what books they’ve read lately.
This is the absolute opposite of what you should do. Here’s why:
Almost every communication situation tends to fall into one of two buckets: relationship or issue. Most attorneys strive to create a relationship in voir dire; they want jurors to like and trust them. But jurors have no desire to have a relationship with you. Remember, most jurors don’t want to be there at all. Attempting to create a relationship with jurors at the beginning of voir dire doesn’t work because jurors begin the process in issue mode. If you truly want a relationship with jurors, you have start with issue-oriented communication.
Permission can be defined as how receptive people are to you and your message. Meeting people where they are is the number one way to increase permission. Gaining a juror’s permission is the true goal of voir dire, not trust. There simply isn’t enough time to gain a juror’s trust in voir dire and attempting to do so can backfire.
So how do you increase permission and meet jurors where they are? Get to the point.
Jurors are expecting the entire song and dance of lame jokes, being talking down to, (does anyone really need an explanation of what bias is?) and attempts to get them to like you. When you refuse to do this and get to the point, not only does permission go up, but so does your credibility. You’re not what they were expecting. By getting directly to the point you communicate that you take this process seriously; and by doing so you teach them to take it seriously too.
What does it mean to “get to the point?” Tell jurors why they’re there. Tell them what the case
is about. No, don’t give details you can’t give, but tell them what types of issues they’ll have to
wrestle with and what’s at stake. Involve them in the process. Right from the beginning. When
you do this you communicate that you take them seriously and honor their time.
Preserve a juror’s status. Provide them with certainty. Next time we’ll talk about the third P: Protect a juror’s autonomy.
Last week I talked about the concept of juror as hostage. I introduced the S-C-A-R-F model from David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work.
David has identified five social needs that when threatened, can activate the survival instinct in the brain. He organized these needs into what he calls the SCARF Model. S stands for Status, C for Certainty, A for Autonomy, R for Relatedness and F for Fairness. A decrease in status, a lack of certainty, a removal of autonomy, an absence of relatedness and the perception that something or someone is unfair are all perceived as threats by the brain.
If jury selection threatens jurors in these five areas, how can you tap into the reward center of the juror’s brain, and reverse the threat that jury selection creates?
Allow me to introduce you to the Five ‘P’s’. Because Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness are all under attack during jury selection, you must:
Today let’s focus on the first P: Preserve Status.
Status is defined as rank or position. Quest for status can be seen across several species; from humans to animals, status is something organisms recognize and strive toward.
We’re hardwired to care about status. Receiving admiration and approval from others is something we all crave.
But how does this apply to jury selection? In any situation where a group of strangers are assembled, no one knows the “pecking order.” Who’s the leader? What is my “rank?” How am I being perceived?
This “not knowing” can cause tremendous stress, and stress does not have a positive effect on decision making, the one thing you need jurors to do and do well.
In addition, not only do jurors not know their ranking in the group, but the very process itself has the ability to threaten whatever status is up for grabs.
Think about it: You put jurors on the spot and ask them to share their most personal thoughts, feelings and experiences in front of total strangers. This threatens status.
In order to tap into the reward center of a juror’s brain, you need to preserve a juror’s status. The first step is to address the power imbalance.
Jurors are the most powerful people in the courtroom. They decide the case! The problem is, they don’t feel powerful, especially at first. This is due to lack of information.
You, opposing counsel, and the judge all know more about the case than jurors do. And yet, you ask jurors questions, questions that relate directly to the case, expecting them to share their experiences, insights, and personal opinions when they aren’t sure why we’re asking in the first place. This threatens status.
For example, have you ever been working at your desk when your paralegal pops his or her head in and asks, “Are you free Wednesday afternoon?” If you’re like me, my response is always, “Why?” I don’t want to commit to anything until I know what it is. Jurors feel the same way.
It is incredibly fear-inducing to be put on the spot and asked to speak in front of a group when you aren’t sure of the context. This is why I suggest you provide context to jurors before asking questions. I call these context statements and include them in all of the voir dire I help attorneys create.
Context statements are simple and neutral. They do not give any information about the case that wouldn’t be allowed, nor are they argumentative. They simply provide context for the question you’re about to ask so that jurors can relax and feel empowered at the same time.
For example, if you are trying a car crash case, one context statement might be, “This case involves a car crash.” Simple. But don’t let the simplicity of the context statement fool you; context statements help jurors feel safe by giving them a reason for the question. I cannot tell you how many times in both mock and actual juries I’ve seen a perplexed look on a juror’s face after an attorney has asked a question. Sometimes they don’t understand the question, but in many cases they don’t understand why the attorney is asking the question.
Providing jurors context will help you preserve status. It shifts the power imbalance. You have more information than the jurors. By sharing that information, the power shifts. Jurors begin to have equal footing, and as jury selection continues, that power grows. The more they learn, the more empowered they are.
Before each line of questioning during voir dire, give jurors some context with a simple context statement. Providing jurors with context before asking them questions preserves their status by making it easier to speak in public. The more informed the jury, the more comfortable they feel. The more they know, the more powerful they are.
Rachel, my colleague here at FORTE sent this article to me yesterday, titled, The Green Smoothie Problem: Why Others Don’t Buy Your Ideas. In it the author discusses a common problem using an analogy of offering someone a green smoothie:
“Imagine I just handed you a smoothie in a glass. ‘It’s a green smoothie. Wanna drink it?’
If you’ve never seen or heard of a smoothie like that, you’d react in one of two ways:
Simply by handing you the smoothie, I’ve immediately put you at an information disadvantage. As a result, you anchor to a past precedent or try to draw confidence from others in order to fill in the gaps in your knowledge as quickly as possible. If my goal is to get you to drink the smoothie, I’ve done a rather poor job. I’ve merely handed you the drink and left you to do all the reasoning to influence your decision.
But if I really wanted to influence your decision, what if I shared the reasoning too?
What if, rather than simply hand you the smoothie, I laid out the details of how I came up with it?”
I was immediately struck by how the Green Smoothie Problem applies to voir dire. So often attorneys will begin voir dire by asking questions and offer no context or reasoning for why they are asking. Jurors, who are already at a disadvantage by having the least amount of information in the room, are immediately put on the defensive; if they don’t understand why you’re asking the question, they are afraid that whatever answer they give may be the “wrong” one.
Giving context helps put jurors at ease and helps you get more information. Which is why I suggest always giving a “context statement” before asking a question, or set of questions, in voir dire.
For example, if your case involves a car crash, before asking jurors, “Who here has ever been in a car crash?” Simply state, “This case involves a car crash.” If the case involves a hospital, before asking people about their experiences with hospitals, say, “This case involves a hospital.”
Other context statement examples include:
“In this case, someone was injured in a car crash.”
“In this case, there is a disagreement about what caused the crash.”
“This case involves an insurance claim that was not paid.”
Attorneys who hear this advice for the first time will often say to me, “But the judge reads a statement of the case before voir dire begins! Why repeat that info?”
The answer is twofold. One, the statement by the judge is read in its entirety, where voir dire will examine various aspects of a juror’s belief piece by piece. Two, the person who has the most information is the most powerful person in the room. Why leave that power sitting in the judge’s lap? Giving jurors context as you work your way through voir dire increases your credibility while empowering the jury at the same time. It’s win/win.
To learn more about my trial method, visit my Trial Tips page to watch videos on various trial topics, or subscribe to my newsletter to receive these blogs and videos directly into your inbox.
Sari has been dubbed the "Attorney Whisperer" because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves.