By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
What do I mean when I say the witness should treat cross-examination questions like a flashlight in a dark room? I mean that the questions are designed to shine a light on some things and to purposefully leave other things in the dark. Imagine, for example, a series of questions designed to show a hotel room is unoccupied: The TV is off, right? The luggage is gone? There's no one in the chair? And there's no one in the bed, all true? These may all be true, but what are they leaving out? The bathroom door is closed. The room's occupant is still there. The claims made in the questions are all true, but they're purposefully incomplete. They are selected and designed in order to tell the examiner's story, not your own. I have used this analogy before, in a post focused on the selective nature of memory, but it also applies to the selective nature of questioning.
A self-protective pattern of responding to these selective questions requires more than just saying 'Yes' to what is true, and more than just confirming what opposing counsel happens to be shining a light on at any given moment. A self-protective response requires shining a light on some things your adversary has chosen to leave in the dark. And sometimes it means just turning on the lights to see what's in the room. I've known many witnesses who will say during a prep session, "Well, that's true. What else can I say other than 'yes?'" The answer may be 'Yes,' but you can and should say more than 'Yes' because 'Yes' isn't the whole story. In this post, I'll use an extended example to highlight the ways a witness can get beyond the flashlight focus of a true but incomplete claim in a question.