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Insights for Trial Lawyers from the book Pre-Suasion

Below is a summary of a few of the main points for trial lawyers from a great book on persuasion, Pre-Suasion, by Robert Cialdini.

  1. Pre-suasion is the key to Persuasion “The best persuaders become the best through pre-suasion—the process of arranging for recipients to be receptive to a message before they encounter it . . . . The answer lies partly in a poorly appreciated tenet of all communication: “What we present first changes the way people experience what we present to them next.”(Cialdini at 4) Cialdini quotes the Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, who declared. “Every battle is won before it is fought.”
  2. Elevated Attention to an Idea (The Privileged Moment) The major thesis of book: Frequently the factor that is most likely to determine a person’s choice in a situation is not the one that counsels most wisely there; it is one that has been elevated in attention (and, thereby, in privilege) at the time of the decision. (Cialdini at 25.) Cialdini challenges the dominant belief of persuasion. He explains that the dominant belief—that is supported by evidence—is that “if you wish to change another’s behavior, you must first change some existing feature of that person so that it fits with the behavior. . . . An alternate model is that to get the desired action it’s not necessary to alter a person’s beliefs or attitudes or experiences . . .” Instead the guiding factor is not an even handed analysis of facts but it’s the idea that has been elevated in the privileged moment by the persuader. “But why? The answer has to do with the ruthlessness of channeled attention, which not only promotes the now-focal aspect of the situation but also suppresses all competing aspects of it—even critically important ones.” (Cialdini at 26-28)
  3. The Fallacy of Multi-Tasking Research shows that when we pay attention to something, the cost is that we don’t pay attention to something else. Multi-tasking simply doesn’t work. Multi-tasking is like trying to listen to more than one track of a CD at the same time. Even though there are multiple “tracks” (like a CD) of information available, we consciously select only the one we want to register at that moment. For example, multi-tasking gives you the apparent ability to focus on several activities in the same time frame—perhaps talking on the phone while reading an email message. Although it might seem that we are concentrating on more than one thing simultaneously, that’s an illusion. We are just rapidly alternating our focus. However, just as there is a price for paying attention, there is a charge for switching it. For about a half second during a shift of focus, we experience a mental dead spot, called an attentional blink, when we can’t register the newly highlight information consciously.ch is an illusion because if it is thinking of something else, the audience is no longer processing what you are saying. For example, whenever you lose eye contact with a judge at a hearing or a jury during trial because you are looking at notes, you have given them the perfect excuse to no longer look at you and start thinking of something else. When you reestablish eye contact, they may be looking at you but odds are they are still thinking about whatever was pressing on their mind when you lost their attention.

In short, the key is to put your best point first, build on it, and never bore your audience so that there is no chance for multi-tasking. It sounds simple, but it takes a lot of effort. Great trial lawyers know that the effort is worth it.