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Effective Communication Skills Jill Tolles, M.A. Special Court Jurisdiction June 7, 2013 www.jilltolles.com. “Bench Communication” Observations. What are the greatest c hallenges or mistakes you have observed judges make? What are the most effective strategies you have observed?

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Effective communication skills jill tolles m a
Effective Communication SkillsJill Tolles, M.A.

Special Court Jurisdiction

June 7, 2013


Bench communication observations
“Bench Communication” Observations

  • What are the greatest challenges or mistakes you have observed judges make?

  • What are the most effective strategies you have observed?

    • Presenting from the bench

    • Managing the courtroom

Effective communication skills jill tolles m a

“I know you think

you understand

what you thought I said

but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard

is not what I meant.”

  • Alan Greenspan

Why communication matters
Why Communication Matters

  • Perceptions

  • JPE’s

  • Re-election

  • Appeals


  • Verbal Communication

  • Nonverbal Communication

  • Listening

Communication goals
Communication Goals

  • Clarity

  • Comprehension

  • Appropriateness

    • Firm but Fair

    • Know your Role (and stick with it)

    • The “Goldilocks Principle”


  • Keep it Simple and Concrete

  • Use the active voice (I, You v. “One”)

  • Avoid “Legalese”

  • Define Terms

  • Avoid Acronyms


  • Introduction

    • Opener

    • Credibility and Goodwill (“Firm but Fair”)

  • Body

    • “Courtroom Expectations”

    • “Overview of Process”

    • “Ruling and Explanation”

  • Conclusion

    • Summary and Questions

Mental maps and signposts
Mental Maps and Signposts

  • “The first thing I need to find out is whether this court has jurisdiction (that is, the right to decide this case.

  • Then I need to find whether the financial situation of the parent who does not have custody has changed, and if it has,

  • I need to decide what change in monthly support would be appropriate.” (Adapted from Albrecht, et al, p. 46)

  • Repeat and Summarize Often


  • What areas of verbal communication are your greatest challenges?

  • What three aspects of effective verbal communication can you implement?

Part 2 listening and nonverbal effectiveness
Part 2: Listening and Nonverbal Effectiveness

Self test in judicial communication

Self-Test in Judicial Communication

Answer with “T” or “F” the 10 questions.

Question 1
Question #1

  • Nonverbal facial cues—especially eye contact—are generally unreliable indicators that a speaker is lying.

  • True

    • “Most liars can fool most people most of the time.” – Paul Ekman, Telling Lies

Best clues for lie detection
Best clues for lie detection

  • Slips of the tongue

  • Emotional outbursts, tirades

  • Emblematic slips (inadvertent nonverbal cues)

  • Micro-expressions (1/4 second emotional flashes

Problem detecting lies in the courtroom
Problem: Detecting lies in the courtroom

  • The best liars show nonverbal behaviors of the truth-teller

  • “Anxiety/fear” cues and “deception” cues are very similar

  • Cues of lying—culture-bound

  • After telling the same lie often, the liar comes to believe it—and give truth-telling cues

Liars are most often tripped up by verbal not nonverbal behavior zuckerman driver 1985
“Liars are most often tripped up by verbal, not nonverbal behavior.” -- Zuckerman & Driver, 1985

Question 2
Question #2

  • Listening training is the quickest, most reliable method for improving listening efficiency.

  • False

    • How speakers present information shapes listening faster and better.

    • Implications for judges and lawyers? How do we get jurors to listen better?

Question 3
Question #3

  • Recent research gives us a fairly reliable “dictionary” of body language cues and what they mean.

  • False

    • No “nonverbal dictionary”; meanings are in people—who observe nonverbal behavior and assign meaning.

    • Implications: Jury experts during voir dire? Witness credibility? Perceived judicial attitudes?

Question 4
Question #4

  • Juvenile offenders with poor verbal skills tend to get heavier sentences than those with more mature, fluent skills.

  • True

    • May be other reasons for dispositions, but communication behavior is salient.

    • Adult defendants: can fluency affect sentencing decisions?

Question 5
Question #5

  • Accurate communication can rarely be achieved in a “one-way” (no feedback) process.

  • False

    • Usually achieved with effective verbal messages.

    • Courtroom communication depends on one-way events.

Question 6
Question #6

  • Jurors do poorly on comprehension tests administered immediately after pattern or uniform instruction on legal terms and principles

  • True

    • Rewriting improves comprehension

    • Hearing and reading improves comprehension

Question 7
Question #7

  • The average adult attention span is about 20 minutes

  • True . . . Or False

    • Research in 1970’s – 20 min.

    • Research in 2000—8 min.

    • Implications for messages to laypeople? Length of opening statements? Direct examinations? Jury instructions?

Question 8
Question #8

  • After our basic communication styles and skills develop (by about age 25), very few of us are capable of changing them significantly

  • False

    • Key word is “capable”

    • Lawyer to judge? Criminal court to family court? Managing trial vs. settlement conference?

    • Judges do add skills, change styles

Question 9
Question #9

  • Most judges and lawyers use different language and style when writing than when speaking.

  • True

    • Spontaneous oral composition—on the record.

    • Judge’s written decision vs. transcript of judge’s spoken decision.

Question 10
Question #10

  • The most important factor in one’s ability to interpret accurately the nonverbal messages of others is skill of disciplined observation.

  • False

    • Most important: Familiarity (with the person being observed).

    • Judge observing a stranger vs. judge observing a person he/she knows well.


  • Utilize the Thought-Speech Differential

  • Ask and Solicit Questions

  • Use Paraphrasing (2-way)

  • Control Interruptions

The thought speech differential
The thought Speech Differential

  • Spare “Brain Space”


Ask and solicit questions
Ask and Solicit Questions

  • “Give me a little more information about…”

  • “Help me understand…”

  • “Give me an example…”


  • “You are required to sign a piece of paper promising the court to do certain things. If you do not keep your promise, the consequences are… Are you clear what you need to do? What is that?”

Control interruptions
Control Interruptions

  • “When you speak, I will be sure that you are not interrupted either.”

  • “Remember one of the ground rules…”

  • “I’m going to call for a recess (or continuance) in this case.”

  • Holding up your hand.

Responding to emotions
Responding to emotions

  • Stay Impartial

  • Stay Calm

  • Engage and Listen

  • Express the Desire to Help

  • Be Firm

  • Disengage when Necessary

Disengagement and saying no
Disengagement and saying “no”

  • “I’m sorry, but we are simply out of time.”

  • “I have to leave enough time for other people here in the courtroom.”

  • “I would like you to talk with the (court staff) person while I move on to the next case.”

  • “I am going to take a short recess.”


  • Eye Contact

  • Facial Expressions

  • Voice

  • Posture

  • Gestures

  • Artifacts

  • Time and Setting

Mock trial observations
Mock Trial Observations

  • Model Courtroom (2nd Floor)

  • Present for maximum of 5 minutes

  • Recorded (with or without feedback)

  • Response from peers