By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
A surefire path to greater credibility is to meet every high expectation, but a close second is to defy low expectations. That is an important lesson for litigators, and that is also what presidential candidate Ron Paul has in common with Denver quarterback Tim Tebow: the ability to do a lot better than most people had expected. No matter what you might think about the persona and policies of the unusually libertarian Texas Congressman, his ability to come in as a strong second in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary provides a compelling answer to those who considered him footnote in this race. And no matter what you think of the persona and the play of the unusually prayerful ex-Gator, now in the Mile High City (Go Broncos!), his ability to pull a rabbit out of the hat in fourth quarter or overtime these past few weeks has been a pretty convincing answer to his many critics.
Like Ron Paul and Tim Tebow, litigators also suffer from low expectations. For many jurors, the very fact that you're in litigation -- whether as a plaintiff or defendant -- means that you've done something wrong. Plaintiffs carry the expectations of low personal responsibility, frivolous claims, and greed. Defendants carry the expectations of wrongdoing, callousness, and like plaintiffs, greed. But for both parties, there is a silver lining to low expectations: Crafting a trial message that exceeds those low expectations is a great way to build credibility and encourage your audience -- jury, arbitrator, judge, or mediator -- to listen to you with fresh ears and an open mind. This post looks at the psychology of violating expectations, and makes recommendations for both plaintiffs and defendants.