In the last several blogs I’ve talked about the concept of juror as hostage. I introduced you to 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. Those needs are: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.
We’ve been moving through the Five ‘P’s’ that will help us reverse the threat jury selection creates, those P’s being:
We tackled Provide Certainty in the last blog, so in today’s blog, let’s move onto Protect Autonomy.
This is the big one, isn’t it? Jury selection threatens a juror’s status by making them speak in front of a group of strangers, and yes, jurors have the least amount of information in the room which threatens certainty, but lack of autonomy is the big threat to jurors. It’s what makes them hostages!
Autonomy can be defined as freedom from external control or influence. We all want to feel like we can make our own decisions, decide our own schedules and operate with basic freedom in the world. When autonomy is threatened, however, we feel incredibly unsafe.
Even though jury selection doesn’t actually threaten jurors physically, it still activates their threat response. Think about it: why are most jurors hostile? Because they are being forced to participate! They don’t have a choice.
How can you reverse the threat jury selection causes and protect a juror’s autonomy? Here are a few tips:
When you begin voir dire, start by acknowledging resistance. People who communicate what others are thinking are perceived as more intelligent and credible. Simply start with, “Thank you for being here. I know you didn’t have much of a choice.” But don’t stop there. Continue by pointing out that they did exercise some autonomy, however, by showing up. “Even though obeying a jury summons is required, many people chose to ignore that summons and not show up today. I appreciate all of you for making the choice to come here today and participate in jury selection.”
These few sentences do two powerful things: 1) they communicate to jurors that you understand they are, for the most part, there against their will, but 2) they could have chosen not to come at all and therefore are still autonomous beings who can make their own choices.
So often attorneys attempt to do the first — acknowledge resistance — without doing the second — pointing out that jurors did in fact decide to come. If we acknowledge that jurors are there against their will and leave it at that, we haven’t done anything to protect the juror’s autonomy. It’s extremely important to acknowledge not only resistance, but that jurors are still autonomous beings that can make their own decisions.
Now, a caveat: Avoid making a big deal about how powerful jurors are in an attempt to compensate for the absence of autonomy until later in trial. As I mentioned before, jurors are the most powerful people in the room because they get to decide the case. However, pointing this out too early in the process can seem like manipulation; it’s best to wait until the group is formed before reminding them of their immense power.
But the biggest thing you can do to protect a juror’s autonomy is actually give them a choice.
Instead of asking about their hobbies, describe the mission. Tell them what they’re going to have to do. Get them talking about the principles in the case so they understand what’s at stake. Then ask them if they want to participate. When you get their buy in early, you’ll see that jurors begin to willingly give up their autonomy to join your cause. But you can’t get buy in until and unless jurors understand why they are there and what they have to do.
Want to help jurors move from hostage to hero? Preserve their status. Provide them with certainty. Protect their autonomy. Next time we’ll talk about the fourth P: Promote Relatedness.
Sari has been dubbed the "Attorney Whisperer" because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves.