It's a Trap! How to Avoid Word Traps During Witness Testimony

CSI - Courtroom Sciences Inc.

The economic risks presented by reptile attacks are substantial and are a key reason why witness effectiveness training, prior to testimony, is crucial to litigation success. During this intense neurocognitive attack, the plaintiff's attorney is attempting to manipulate a witness to try to get them to completely agree to some very general questions, often using words that the brain normally doesn't think of as bad words but which can lock witnesses into inflexible positions if a witness says them, or agrees to them, in deposition or trial testimony.

These words can be thought of as trap words as the phrasing and structure of these questions are designed to unwittingly trap a defense witness into admitting malfeasance or negligence. Prevent your witness from making errors that can derail your case by providing them with the necessary skills to avoid falling into these traps.

What words should be avoided during witness testimony?

The Bad Word List, also known as the anti-reptile word list, includes: always, never, must, required, every, any, safety, priority, prevent, and violate, among others. Each word eliminates judgment and circumstances and can trap witnesses. 

The Bad Word List

Witnesses frequently struggle with identifying words on the bad word list because these are generally words that would be okay when used in everyday life. However, when these same words are included in questions during deposition or trial, these ordinary words take on new meanings and become red flag words that demand a witness's full attention.  

The bad word list includes the following:

●  Always/Never - A lot of reptile questions have these particular words. Questions that include ‘you always do this’ or ‘you never do that’ are trap questions.

●  Must/Should - These words, in particular, are a trap as circumstances are often what can dictate appropriate conduct in a given situation. 

●  Required/Obligated/Duty - Questions may combine these bad words with others, such as ‘You are always required to do X, correct?’ Any agreement to these questions locks in a witness. 

●  Ensure/Guarantee - Almost nothing in life is guaranteed. If these words pop up in a question, the answer cannot be yes, because it wouldn’t really be a truthful answer. 

●  Every/Everything/All - These bad words are all-encompassing and simply too extreme.

●  Any/Anything - These are idealistic words but too broad and all-encompassing. There are almost always limitations to a situation. 

●  Risk/Danger/Harm/Safety - These are classic reptile words to watch out for. 

●  Well-being - Synonymous with safety, this word is often replaced by safety in reptile questions. 

●  Priority - This bad word shows up in far too many company policies. Priorities change, and they can change daily, hourly, and sometimes by the minute based on the circumstances. 

●  Important - This is a word witnesses need to be careful around. It’s okay for something to be important, but the trap may come with adding a qualifier, such as agreeing to something more important or the most important. 

●  Prevent - While it may be a goal to prevent something from happening, such as preventing an accident, witnesses want to ensure that they aren’t testifying that they are required to prevent an accident, as that may not always be possible. 

●  Deviate/Breach/Violate - These bad words are often favorites when discussing the standard of care liability. 

One commonality that many of the words on the bad word list share is that they are extreme words that have the effect of eliminating nuance. While not intended to be comprehensive, this bad word list disregards things like judgment, circumstances, situations, training, and experience. Instead, it locks a witness into an inflexible position with their testimony.

The Good Word List

Unlike the bad word list, the good word list is a set of words that a witness can use repeatedly and in combination with each other. One of the greatest things about the words on this list is that they are both highly effective and truthful. 

The good word list includes the following:

●  Judgment/Training/Experience - Witnesses may say things like, ‘I use my judgment,’ or ‘I use my training.’ These are excellent words for witnesses.

●  Appropriate/Reasonable - An employee’s job is to do what is appropriate or reasonable. 

●  Sufficient - Employees shouldn’t be expected to do everything; they should do what's sufficient.

●  Circumstances/Situation - Actions often depend on the circumstances or the situation, and those conditions will help to determine what may be appropriate, reasonable, or sufficient. 

Similarly to the bad word list, this list of good words isn’t exhaustive. Other middle-of-the-road words that can be used judiciously may include potentially, maybe, possibly, sometimes, and not necessarily. These words are effective, accurate, and truthful. 

Learning how to avoid the bad word list and utilize the good word list is how a witness will thrive. At Courtroom Sciences, our behavioral experts help witnesses avoid plaintiff reptile attacks by providing advanced cognitive, behavioral, and emotional training. Speak with one of our experts to get started.

Key Takeaways

●  The Bad Word List, also known as the anti-reptile word list, includes: always, never, must, required, every, any, safety, priority, prevent, and violate, among others. 

●  Each word on the bad words list eliminates judgment and circumstances and is intended to trap witnesses. 

●  Witnesses may struggle to identify plaintiff attorney traps as they often use words the brain doesn't normally think of as bad. 

●  A witness will thrive by learning how to respond when hearing words on the bad word list and utilizing the good word list.

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