By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Here's a tale of two witnesses, both of which I prepared in the last couple of weeks. One was a nervous wreck, absolutely convinced that his testimony would be a complete disaster. He felt, initially at least, that he had little to no control over the situation, and seemed to believe that testimony required a specific personal skill that he simply didn't have. The second witness was also nervous, but was thoroughly engaged. Taking notes on everything that I and her attorney said, she was committed to practice, and even a little exhausting in her continuing requests for more run-throughs: "Let's try that again..." Both witnesses were definitely stressed, but there was an important distinction in the type of stress. A recent article in Psychology Today, by Jeffrey Davis, takes a look at this distinction. You have probably heard before about the "stress curve," or the view that when it comes to optimum performance, too little stress is bad, too much stress is bad, and a moderate amount of stress is just right. But that approach assumes that we are just talking about one thing when we talk about stress. In contrast, Jeffrey Davis points out, "Not all stress is equal. There are dis-stressors that can paralyze your creativity at work, and there are eu-stressors that can catalyze your creativity at work."
The distinction between creative and destructive stress comes from Richard Lazarus's work from the 1960s. In a recent study (Ren & Zhang, 2015), two Chinese psychologists looked at data from 282 employees in a variety of industries, and found that the good stressors are positively correlated with individuals and teams at work being more creative and generating more ideas. Litigation is obviously a stressful situation. You might even say it is designed to maximize and channel stress. The attorneys, right in the middle of that battle, might sometimes fail to appreciate the amount of stress placed on co-workers, clients and witnesses. The witnesses in particular, face a challenging assignment, and whether they're experiencing the good stress or the bad stress can make all the difference. In this post, I will look at a few of the specific situational factors applying to witnesses during the preparation stage that, according to the researchers, can make for either good eu-stress or bad dis-stress.