To jurors, most legal cases are unfamiliar by nature. Cases are about the agreement that jurors weren’t a part of, the product they never used, the employer they never worked for. And, more broadly, the cases often rest on bodies of knowledge and forms of thought that are almost entirely foreign to jurors: the medical standards or the principles of intellectual property law that jurors can be told about, but without any analog in their own experience. How do practical persuaders bridge that gap? By connecting what is new to what is already known, and by finding one or more points of familiarity.
Giving an audience something that feels familiar is one of the central ways to build influence and credibility. By connecting your message to something already known to a jury — familiar content, language, structure, or style — you’re engineering an advantage at a cognitive level. When we retain that information and retrieve it later, those features of familiarity make it seem like something we already know. And when it feels more like our own knowledge, it is egocentrically going to seem more understandable, more credible, and more true. In this post, I am going to look at four ways to emphasize familiarity in a message that might initially seem novel or strange.
At the start of trial, jurors don’t yet have the facts and don’t understand the background knowledge. But what do they know? If you find a point of connection to that content, even if it starts with a bit of oversimplification, then you’re still setting a foundation for better and more trustworthy understanding.
Unfamiliar: Let’s start with the provisions of the contract in Section Two, A….
Familiar: I think it starts with simple principles that any of us would understand and expect if we were making a promise to a good friend of ours…
Ultimately, jurors’ vocabulary may need to expand as they dig into the case. But initially, using words they already understand will lead to less resistance to both the instruction and the persuasion.
Unfamiliar: The prior art in this case proves that the invention isn’t novel, and the patent is invalid.
Familiar: You can’t claim an idea if you’re not the one who came up with it.
The law is, in itself, a framework of ideas and language that is somewhat inaccessible to those who haven’t been trained in it. Because of that, being analytically ‘correct’ is not always the same as being clear. The most familiar structure to most people is a story.
Unfamiliar: The law provides three categories where we need to focus our proof, so let’s talk about each…
Familiar: I want you to understand everything that happened, so let’s start at the beginning…
Combining the language, content, and structure, the overall style should be familiar as well. The root of the word “familiar” is “family.” So, your overall tone and style should reflect the way we talk when we are among those we’re closest to — unguarded and informal. Adapting habits that are conversational rather than stuffy, we tie into our most trusted modes of communication.
Unfamiliar: One could presuppose that the reasons for the party’s breach are found in factors such as a deficit of knowledge, a deficit of time, or a deficit of the resources necessary for performance. The facts, however, do not bear any of these out.
Familiar: You’ve got to ask yourself — why didn’t they follow the contract? Did they not know? Not have enough time? Not have the right tools? No, they had all of those. But they still tossed this contract in the trash.
Communication is a matter of building and maintaining bridges. The best bridge will often be the bridge that your target already knows and uses.
Image credit: 123rf.com, used under license