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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Psychology: The Secret To Winning In Court, And In Politics

A common problem in litigation is the sense that the case has been pre-judged. That is, the sense that the decision has been made. It could be the decision on the verdict, or the motion, it really doesn't matter much. Having this sense means that one also believes that the facts no longer matter (you'll try to argue them anyway) or the law or legal precedents (other rulings) don't matter (ditto). The quandary for the advocate is how to crack this dilemma, to control the damage, to live to fight another day.

One way around this is to try to totally change the foundational paradigm of the case. An example might be to shift the argument radically. If a straightforward recitation of facts and the law is not apparently working, then you've got to strike at something deeper. That is, to go after the "core values" of the decisionmaker -- the judge or, in rare instances, the jury.

Identifying those core beliefs is difficult. A case in point is any political campaign, whose success ultimately depends on voter turnout. Forget what people say, what they tell pollsters. As the football coaching legend Bill Parcells said once, "You are what your record says you are." You win or you lose. Results matter. In fact, that is all that matters -- did you win?

Getting to politics. How does one determine a campaign's or candidate's real supporters?

There's a big gap between spoken beliefs and actual beliefs. The truest test of where someone stands, whether it's for a candidate or a particular political ideology, is NOT some sort of pop quiz where if you get eight out of ten "right," you're in a certain category. Forget ideology. It's psychology that matters.

And adversity often brings out the truth. I've long believed that certain human emotions are actually incompatible with truly sincere ideological beliefs. Want to see how progressive your buddies are? Watch how they react when they get passed over for a promotion by an equally or more-qualified minority group member? Want to see how conservative your friends are? See how they squirm with envy when you get that house, promotion, etc.

The core emotion of envy / jealousy reveals that ideology doesn't drive voting decisions. Psychology does. Human weaknesses do. And activism thrives, not on ideology, but on these psychological drivers.

If you're thinking that "ideology" or "party identification" is the driver in those decisions, you're confusing the symptom (the stated belief) with the real, underlying cause (the psychological belief or value system).

If you want to pull out that victory, in any field, you have to recognize the symptom first. But then you must go one step further. To avoid the false positive, the indicator that leads you to one conclusion which could be very wrong, you have to dig for the underlying belief.

Very simply, it becomes: Why does someone believe in something?

If you aren't diligent enough at doing the digging to get to the real answer, you run the real risk of being really, really wrong.

Eric Dixon is a New York-based investigative and corporate attorney.

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