Witness Preparation Strategies for the Overly Agreeable Witness

CSI - Courtroom Sciences Inc


Considered trustworthy, honest, and cooperative, individuals who are seen as agreeable frequently exhibit highly social behaviors, make friends easily, and enjoy the company of others. These individuals often demonstrate more kindness, empathy, and affection for others than the average person. Research published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine even indicates a correlation between individuals who are agreeable with more career stability, with other research indicating additional correlations including better long-term relationships and higher self-reported levels of happiness.  

While agreeableness is a personality trait that generally has positive connotations, being overly agreeable can cause individuals to go along with the crowd, be unable to stand their ground, and avoid conflict at all costs. In a deposition or trial setting, this overly agreeable witness may be more willing to agree with leading questions made by the plaintiff attorney and could leave your case vulnerable to devastating outcomes.

There are four specific and high-risk emotional states that are prevalent in many witnesses, including the overly agreeable witness, which could prevent a witness from being able to give effective and credible testimony during a deposition or trial. Identifying your witness’ emotional style accurately is an essential step for mitigating risk and achieving superior outcomes.

What are the best ways to help an overly agreeable witness' testimony succeed?

A witness’ ability to control emotion depends on having the capacity to modulate negative emotional responses through cognitive-emotional strategies. This deliberate emotional regulation strategy involves actively reinterpreting a negative stimulus as a neutral stimulus. During a deposition or trial, this strategy would enable the witness to detect an emotional threat from opposing counsel, calmly identify the threat as an attempt to bait the witness, and deliver effective testimony.

The Overly Agreeable Witness  

Even though agreeableness is generally thought of as a positive attribute, there are some negative aspects as well. Those who are high in agreeableness generally try to please other people, are more comfortable concurring with others, and may feel uncomfortable with the possibility of letting people down. Manipulative questioning tactics used by plaintiff attorneys, including reptile attacks, can disproportionately affect witnesses with a high-risk emotional style.  

A witness with a high-risk emotional style, such as the overly agreeable witness, is more susceptible to becoming baited into fight or flight response during deposition or trial testimony. While a calm, credible, and likable witness is compelling during a deposition, one that is overly agreeable may be more willing to agree with leading questions made by the plaintiff attorney during the deposition. Sensing adversity, an overly agreeable witness may be willing to agree to anything in an effort to end the deposition as quickly as possible and leave. Despite the best of intentions, this could cause them to inadvertently admit to fault, negligence, egregious conduct, and causation and could leave your case vulnerable to poor outcomes.

Witness Preparation Strategies  

While, by all appearances, overly agreeable witnesses seem pleasant and enjoyable, a primary reason that these witnesses have a tendency to agree with the plaintiff attorney’s line of questioning is typically rooted within feelings of guilt or perception of inadequacy. These feelings often arise due to a witness experiencing remorse or guilt. Some overly agreeable witnesses may feel a sense of inadequacy, feeling intimidated by both the process and the questions being asked of them. 

In extreme cases, these witnesses may feel that they have betrayed their own rules for ethical behavior or code of moral conduct and, in doing so, believe they should be punished for their actions. Some may see admitting fault as a way that they could be forgiven. For defense attorneys, mitigating this high-risk emotional state can be done through the following steps:

1.  Identifying the pre-existing emotion - In addition to the trial attorney identifying the emotional state, it’s also essential for the witness to be able to express said emotion. The more the witness is able to express the emotion in the preparation environment, the less likely they are to express it during the deposition.

2.  Putting emotional regulation skills into place - These skills will allow the witness to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience. 

3.  Learning cognitive reappraisal skills - Active cognitive reappraisal is a careful, deliberate tactic where a witness learns how to reinterpret negative thoughts in general, and negative stimuli within the deposition environment, more specifically, to prevent the brain from an impulsive, spontaneous reaction to a negative stimulus. 

4.  Continued practice and utilization of learned skills - The more mock questioning that can be done with an overly agreeable witness, the more comfortable they become, allowing them to be able to provide strong, effective testimony when it matters the most.

Courtroom Sciences knows that a single, rattled witness can disproportionately impact settlement and trial outcomes and result in a nuclear verdict. Taking into account each witness' specific emotional state and the circumstances of the case, Courtroom Sciences provides psychology-based witness training that will leave them poised, confident, and persuasive. Speak with one of our experts to get started. 

Key Takeaways

●  Generally considered a positive trait, an overly agreeable witness may be susceptible to becoming baited into fight or flight response during deposition testimony. 

●  An overly agreeable witness may be more willing to agree with leading questions made by the plaintiff attorney during the deposition.

●  Manipulative questioning tactics used by plaintiff attorneys, including reptile attacks, can disproportionately affect witnesses with a high-risk emotional style.  

●  Mitigating this emotional state can be done by identifying the pre-existing emotion, putting emotional regulation skills into place, learning cognitive reappraisal skills, and continued practice and utilization of learned skills.

●  Courtroom Sciences' psychology-based witness training program will allow a witness to be effective while preventing them from making errors that can derail your case.

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