In the current wave of this pandemic year, as many trials and in-person jury research projects are on hold, the social science research has continued. I’m thankful for that, and for this post, I want to appreciate a new study on gratitude itself. The study (Algoe et al., 2020) shows that people expressing gratitude are held in higher esteem, and specifically that those witnessing expressions of thankfulness are primed to be helpful toward that person, to disclose more to them, and to want to affiliate more with that person as well. The authors note, “Gratitude may help build multiple relationships within a social network directly and simultaneously.” That is a timely reminder for litigators to express appreciation for jurors and for all of those who they rely upon in bringing a case to trial.
For this blog, my posting schedule includes Thursdays, so it always hits Thanksgiving, and sometimes my posts reflect that. Last year at this time I wrote that attorneys should thank their jurors, but the gratitude should not be overlong and repetitive, nor should you sacrifice the opportunity for a impactful “Silver Bullet” introduction by making the “Thank You’s” the first words out of your mouth in opening statement. But the recent study shows that, nonetheless, a succinct expression of thanks is still very important to credibility. In the best of times, jurors are putting their lives on hold to help you resolve your problems. But in these times of rising coronavirus cases, jurors in some parts of the country may be literally risking their lives in order to show up. They, and your whole team, should get your thanks. In this post, I will share a bit about the study and what it means for giving thanks in the courtroom.
The Research: A ‘Witness Effect’ from Gratitude
The research team looked at the social effects of emotional expressions, in this case, the messages taken from expressions of gratitude. They theorized that, in addition to being an exchange between two parties, the ‘thanker’ and the ‘thanked,’ there is also a “witness effect” on third party when they see gratitude expressed toward others. Over the course of eight studies involving a total of 1,817 research participants, the team manipulated messages to include expressions of gratitude, and demonstrated that thankfulness has benefits. Specifically, the research showed that people are likely to be more positive and helpful toward individuals who have expressed gratitude toward someone else. They are likely to also want to affiliate more and to self-disclose more toward a grateful person.
The Implications: Show Your Appreciation
The existence of a “witness effect” suggests that it is as important, or potentially more important, to express gratitude to others (your team), and not just to your audience (the jurors). That underscores the importance of treating your co-counsel, your paralegal, your courtroom technology operator, and your entire group not just as assistants but as humans. In court, refer to them formally by their last names, not their first. Thank them when they do something for you. In your early remarks, note that you appreciate all of their hard work in bringing the case to this point, and all of the assistance they will be providing in laying the case out for the jury. The appreciation should also extend to the courtroom staff and to the judge as well. In normal times, there is a lot that goes into presenting a case for trial, and in these pandemic times, the burdens are vastly greater. Letting the jurors know that you understand and appreciate all of these efforts helps build your own credibility. So you don’t need to overdo it, and you don’t need to repeat it. But you should, in a single succinct moment, let your fact-finders know that you appreciate them, and value everyone who is helping to bring this case to a good resolution.
And Happy Thanksgiving everyone: I’m truly thankful for my readers, my colleagues, and my clients.
Algoe, S. B., Dwyer, P. C., Younge, A., & Oveis, C. (2020). A new perspective on the social functions of emotions: Gratitude and the witnessing effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 119(1), 40–74. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000202
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