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How to Apply Cialdini's 6 Principles of Persuasion in the Courtroom (Part 2)

Alex Brown
By: Alex Brown

Psychology, Opening, Emotions, Persuasion


by Alex Brown
Director of Operations
A2L Consulting

Commitment (and Consistency) (see Part 1 about reciprocity here)

In 1971, Charles Kiesler wrote a book called The Psychology of Commitment. In it he describes various experiments designed to understand human motivations. Kiesler referred to one of his experimental results as “the boomerang effect.”  The idea is that if a person has committed to something and is then attacked for his position, he or she is likely to increase his or her commitment, even if the commitment was not at all strong in the first place.

This brings up related questions of how and why people become more extreme in their attitudes.  Is it simply to justify their past behavior, or is it because people really want to be right? In many circumstances, a person might seek out others as social support or find outward behaviors that justify his or her position.  Basically, if you get someone to commit to something, they will usually stick to that commitment while under attack and will look for allies to their cause or position. As Cialdini notes, when a commitment is made public, one is likely to stick to it.

In view of this, it should be obvious why this finding can make an important persuasion tool for litigators. We strongly believe that you can win or lose a case in opening statements. In an opening statement, it is your responsibility to:

  1. Show them the path: As a litigator, you are always playing the odds.  The majority of people prefer to have a framework or a path that they can follow. This allows them to be comfortable, and this is what you want. No one fully opens up unless he or she is comfortable. Your goal in opening is to show them the path – and that far from being scary, it is the most reasonable way to go, in fact, it is the only way to go.

  2. Plant the seed: Every juror, if forced to honestly answer, will tell you that even before anyone spoke at the trial, they were leaning toward a judgment. Most believe that if two people stand up, one will lie and the other will tell the truth. During the opening, you have the opportunity to occupy the high ground and lay the groundwork for the jurors to believe your opponent is lying.

  3. Quick judgment:  Research shows that as many as 80 percent of jurors make up their minds immediately after hearing the opening statement. We have shown that if you are in the 20 percent minority, you have set yourself a huge mountain to climb.

  4. Pique interest: A court case is not a TV show or movie. You will not be able to keep the jury’s undivided attention, and the jury’s mind will never be as open as it is during opening statements. Everyone loses interest. After all, these are people with lives, worries, and plans that are being disrupted. If you cannot set their interest right away, you are losing from the start.

  5. Allow empathy: Everyone wants to believe in something. Opening statements are when you can give a juror the opportunity to pick a side and the ability to fight for you when the time comes. The only time a jury does not stand up for their pick is when they have not been given a reason to make a choice.

  6. Walk the path: We have often said that people buy on emotion and justify on facts. These first five points are based on getting the jury emotionally connected to your side. This last point is the fact part. Once you get them thinking of your client as being right, it is your job to show them all the facts they need to stick with this position. Imagine having an advocate for you during deliberation.  If the opening is done correctly, you will have at least one champion in that room, with the commitment to follow through.

Other articles and resources from A2L Consulting related to opening statements and persuasion:

opening statements toolkit ebook download a2l


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