How to sway people, from Justice Sotomayor
“I was fifteen years old when I understood how it is that things break down: people can’t imagine someone else’s point of view.”
So writes Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her memoir, My Beloved World.
Sotomayor’s book is packed with insights about persuasion, including:
Logic = power.
“[F]ormal logic took me by surprise. I loved it. I perceived beauty in it, the idea of an order that held under any circumstances. What excited me most was how I could immediately apply it down the hall in debate practice. I was amazed that something so mathematically pure and abstract could transform into human persuasion, into words with the power.”
Emotion trumps fact.
“Constructing a chain of logic was one thing; building a chain of emotions required a different understanding.”
“[T]he difference between winning and losing came down to the appeal by emotion rather than fact alone.”
“Granting myself permission to use my innate skills of the heart, accepting that emotion was perfectly valid in the art of persuasion, amounted to nothing less than a breakthrough. Warren would teach me much else in the way of trial skills, as had John Fried, Katie Law, and others at the DA’s Office. But that was the single most powerful lesson I would learn. It changed my entire approach to jurors, from the voir dire to the structure of my summations, and the results spoke for themselves: I never lost a case again.”
Whisper, don’t shout.
“I could see that troubling the waters was occasionally necessary to bring attention to the urgency of some problem. But this style of political expression sometimes becomes an end in itself and can lose potency if used routinely.”
“If you shout too loudly and too often, people tend to cover their ears. Take it too far and you risk that nothing will be heard over the report of rifles and hoofbeats.”
“Always, my first question was, what’s the goal? And then, who must be persuaded if it is to be accomplished? A respectful dialogue with one’s opponent almost invariably goes further than a harangue outside his or her window.”
Listen to persuade.
“If you want to change someone’s mind, you must understand what need shapes his or her opinion. To prevail, you must first listen — that eternal lesson of Forensics Club!
“We rehearsed the argument in great detail, but in the moment when I stood before the jury, people recruited from the community through an ad in the local paper, the analytic preparation receded into the background, and some other instinct came forward. I found my eyes automatically scanning their faces, trying to read them: Are they following me? Do I need to push harder or to pull back? There was a sweet spot where I was able to meet them halfway. Most of them, anyway.”
“Leveraging emotional intelligence in the courtroom, as in life, depends on being attentive; the key is always to watch and listen. You don’t need to take notes with the court reporter getting down every word. Lower your eyes to your pad, and you’re bound to miss that hint of a doubt that flits across the witness’s face. Scribble instead of listening, and you won’t notice the split second of hesitation in which a witness hedges a choice of words, avoiding the ones that would flow naturally in favor of the ones whose truth he or she is more certain of.”
Don’t be boring.
“Such attentiveness also figures in upholding one of a litigator’s paramount responsibilities: not to bore the jury.”
Narrative sells ideas.
“Often the difference is a matter of remembering what makes sense to a human being as opposed to another lawyer. For example, a prosecutor usually has no need to prove motive under the law, and yet the human mind naturally constructs its reality in terms of causes and effects, weighing any theory against the plausibility of these links and how they might operate in someone else’s mind. ‘Why would she have done that?’ is something we instinctively ask before we allow ourselves to conclude ‘she did it.’ The state’s case is a narrative: the story of a crime. The defense has only to cast doubts on the coherence of that story. The ‘why’ elements of the story must make sense —what would have motivated this person to hurt that person — before you can engage the jurors’ empathy, put them in the shoes of the accused or the victim, as needed: make them feel the cold blade held against their necks, or the pang of unappreciated devotion that might drive someone to steal from a former employer. It is the particulars that make a story real.”
Details build narratives.
“In examining witnesses, I learned to ask general questions so as to elicit details with powerful sensory associations: the colors, the sounds, the smells, that lodge an image in the mind and put the listener in the burning house.”
How can you use Sotomayor’s insights
to craft a more effective argument for your campaign?