How to Read and Influence People With 6 Powerful Courtroom Tactics
Vulnerability and voice equal credibility and trust, says trial attorney James Daily.
This article was written by James Daily, an Advisor in The Oracles and founding partner of Daily Law Group, which helps high-profile clients with fraud, crisis management, and business and family dispute litigation.
Legal trials teach you about relationships. When I stand before a jury, I have to quickly form a relationship and earn their trust so I can persuade them to see my point of view. Here are my six tips for reading people and relating to them for maximum influence.
1. Understand the 'three chairs of personality.'
Picture three chairs lined up in a row. The first chair represents your public face, how you want to appear to others. The second is your private face, the insecurities that you keep secret or only share with friends. The third is your secret face, the thing that motivates you to create false fronts — for example, something that happened to you as a child.
In any initial interaction, start by focusing on someone’s first chair. Encourage them to talk about what they find interesting. Let them demonstrate their greatness, and they’ll feel flattered that you're interested, which builds trust.
To connect on a deeper level, talk to their second chair next. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes: Imagine how they’re feeling and speak to those emotions. You don’t even have to ask questions; just make observations. For example, you might say, “It must be challenging to run your own business with so many people relying on you.” Then shut up, listen, and let them express themselves.
When you appreciate their position, it tells them that you see them. Be kind and speak to the heart of the person. If you aren’t sure how they’re feeling, share analogies from your life and see if it resonates with them. For example, “When this happened to me, I felt overwhelmed.”
3. Be vulnerable.
To speak to someone’s third chair, you must speak from your own. Contrary to what we’re often taught, it's okay to show your emotions — that's how you connect to others. Being vulnerable in revealing your insecurities or fears is the best way to build trust and encourage someone to open up.
When starting a trial, I first tell the jury what I'm afraid the opposing side will do. For example, if my client is suing a fraudulent business partner, I might tell the jury, “I'm afraid the defense will convince you that my client wasn’t harmed by this crime because he’s rich and successful.” When they hear that, the jury will think, “We won’t fall for that.”
4. Focus on voice and body language.
"Mirroring" is a relating technique where you subtly mimic the other person’s posture, such as slouching or fidgeting. You can sense how someone feels by observing their body language and listening to their voice. Does it seem natural and align with what they say? For example, if their words portray confidence but they can’t meet your gaze, they may lack certainty.
Focus on their facial expressions and truly look into their eyes. I “shake hands” with every juror through eye contact, focusing on someone until I see their head move slightly, which indicates that I connected with them.
Be intentional with your voice, including the tone and cadence. For example, you can lower your voice to create a sense of confidentiality and pause intentionally to lead the conversation.
5. Address objections.
With influence and persuasion, you have to address the other person’s preconceived objections, stories, and biases. That’s why early in a trial, I ask the jurors questions to uncover all their biases so I can address them. For example, “Many people feel that wealthy business owners such as my client don’t deserve large awards like we’re seeking. Do you feel that way?” Listen and thank them for sharing their perspective.
To overcome objections, don’t undermine their beliefs; just ask them to be open to your point of view, reframe the situation, and address their concerns. Instead of selling, describe what you can do for them. Paint a picture of what their life would be like if they considered what you’re offering. Ask them to describe their life in detail without their current challenges, using all five senses and the present tense.
6. Roleplay using psychodrama.
Psychodrama is a powerful roleplaying technique when preparing for dramatic or unpredictable outcomes in trials, negotiations, and meetings. Think about everything that’s important to you and the other side, and roleplay different scenarios with your team.
For example, roleplay how the other side might respond to your non-negotiable needs and how you can concede your “nice to haves” so you seem magnanimous. When you’ve already visualized the possibilities, you're prepared to respond appropriately in the heat of the moment.
You can find many educational recommendations from the National Psychodrama Training Center, such as books by psychodrama founder Jacob L. Moreno. You can even hire others to perform a psychodrama for your situation.
When you understand others’ motivations, you know whether you trust them to do business together. Relating to others and speaking to them as people, instead of as clients or a sale, is the way to win your case.
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