By Melissa M. Gomez, Ph.D.
One persuasive person can make all the difference. That is why, in jury selection, I not only focus on those characteristics that will make jurors biased against and unwilling to find in favor of my client, but also those that give that person the kind of charisma that will cause her to be a persuasive thought leader in deliberations.
In his book, “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell discusses these kinds of people and their power to bring other people to act, to adopt an idea or to purchase a product. He calls them “salesmen” because that is what they are. In your jury, they these are the folks who sell a case idea or concept in such an effective manner that other jurors will follow. Having a person like this on your jury is like having a jury of one person. You convince her, she will convince everyone else. If she is against you, she will turn everyone else against you. All I have to say is that you need to be pretty darn sure she will find for you to keep her on the jury. For me, if I am not positive about how she will go, she will be my number one strike (or, more likely, my final strike if decide to play chicken with opposing counsel).
I recently conducted a focus group in which one of these powerful folks participated. In deliberations, he did not jump out of the box, yelling his opinions. He was too effective a salesman for that. Instead, he let someone else be the foreperson, waited his turn to speak, and then took up the bulk of deliberations with a beautiful soliloquy about what really happened in the case. He spoke with a certain grace and sophistication that drew people in. After that speech, not another opinion independent from his interpretation was provided by any of the other jurors. The salesman had sold and the rest of the jurors were buying.
At the end of their deliberation, I sat down and discussed the case with the group, actively trying to get opinion from the other jurors. They repeatedly referred back to what the salesman had said, repeating his words and starting sentences with “Well, I just agree with Joe” or “As Joe said…”.
The good news is that a powerful salesman will more likely than not make herself known in jury selection if given a chance. She will speak with confidence in voir dire and happily provide opinion. For this reason, if you have the opportunity, it is always helpful to ask questions that are open-ended. Getting a sense of communication styles by letting jurors speak freely will give you a better picture of confidence, charisma and eloquence-- the telltale signs of a salesman. Getting “just the facts” in voir dire may be helpful to identify basic characteristics in your juror profile, but hearing a voice lets you know more about who a person is from an interpersonal standpoint.
One powerful person can make all the difference.
Melissa M. Gomez, Ph.D. is a jury consultant and owner of MMG Jury Consulting, LLC. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Her experience includes work on close to 200 jury trials in Philadelphia and across the country, with a focus on the psychology of juror learning, behavior and decision-making. She has more than a decade of expertise in research design and methodology, as well as in behavioral and communication skills training.
This posting is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed or interpreted as advice specific to any matter. Each case is different and no strategy applies uniformly to all.
If you have any questions regarding jury psychology that you would like to see addressed in this blog, please contact Dr. Gomez at email@example.com or call 215-292-7956.
Melissa M. Gomez, Ph.D.
MMG Jury Consulting, LLC