Whether it’s a knack for finding just the right appellate cases or an aptitude for selecting the ideal jury, successful litigators value that extra edge. Sometimes that edge can be psychological. Luckily, you have a variety of mental tools at your disposal. Using methods of psychology, you can increase your confidence, communicate effectively, make more persuasive arguments, negotiate settlements, and more. Below are six behavioral techniques for managing your case.
1. Be Self-Confident
Speaking before a judge or entire courtroom isn’t easy, especially if it’s your first time in court. The best way to have self-confidence in this situation is to understand the lay of the land and know your stuff. If you’ve studied appellate cases and know what you need to prove or disprove your case, you have reason to be self-confident.
Also, positive psychology experts suggest focusing on gratitude and pleasant experiences or traits. Remember what’s important to you, and focus on the reasons why you’re going to court to represent yourself in the first place. These reasons may relate to important principles or values in your life that can strengthen your determination and help you present the facts more effectively.
2. Be Honest
Effective litigators, good politicians, and successful negotiators have one thing in common. They focus on the facts to help people come to their own conclusion about an issue. That lays the groundwork for persuasion – it’s not being forceful, pushy, or overly opinionated. Be honest with a little assertiveness added in.
One of the biggest components of a persuasive argument is credibility. Being honest in litigation means not obscuring unfavorable facts. Trying to hide facts that are not useful to your argument makes you less credible. So, it’s important to present relevant facts in a credible and honest way, even if a fact looks bad for your side. Dealing with it honestly shows that you understand and can present the whole picture. Your audience will trust what you’re saying this way.
3. Be Patient
Public speaking is an art that takes time to master. Clear, well-pronounced words have impact and lead to effective communication. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that the most persuasive speakers read about 3.5 words per second with natural pauses. It’s hard to have patience when you’re nervous, especially in an adversarial situation.
Rushing though can make you seem like a fast-talker who has something to hide. Try breathing exercises and practicing what you’ll say. If you need to appear in court, pace yourself, and speak naturally.
4. Tell a Story
One of the best ways to communicate is by telling a story, which creates an emotional connection with the listener. This is especially important when speaking to a judge or jury. Creating a narrative that weaves in supportive facts rather than cold, hard numbers keeps the audience engaged. In arguments and debates, it’s helpful to elaborate and expand on core topics to strengthen your position. This tactic reinforces your talking points while avoiding repetition that may dilute your message.
Sometimes when people get nervous, they ramble. I do it, even when I know it’s not helpful. Remember that bringing in irrelevant or unimportant facts can distract from your main argument and frustrates both judges and juries. People want to hear what happened and why you’re in court, so tell them in the most straight forward and simple way you can.
5. Choose Your Words Wisely
Word choice could have a significant impact on the outcome of your case. According to linguistics students who analyzed 30 years of Supreme Court arguments, attorneys who used unpleasant language, especially in relation to the opposing counsel, were less likely to win their cases based on legal merit and individual votes from justices.
Even if the attorney on the other side is at best a goon, be respectful in both writing and your speech. Sticking to the facts and using only the words you must are effective strategies for clear communication in or out of court.
6. Listen Actively, Despite Your Emotions
In general, lawyers do an excellent job of representing their clients. Some even take on or reflect the genuine outrage, anger, pain, and emotions of their clients. But that representation is bought, and no matter how good they are, the pain is not theirs. As a pro se litigant, you are fighting for yourself. You have the pain, the anger, the outrage, and everything that goes along with it. Your emotions are high.
Sometimes emotions can get the best of you. They can affect your ability to be an effective listener, which is an essential part of successful communication. By listening to the other side calmly, you increase your credibility and gain respect. Not only that, but hearing their side gives you the opportunity to address whatever is bothering them.
In the end, keep your cool. Do your homework, and follow a behavioral game plan that ensures the best outcome for your case.