Persuasion Matters

Power, Punishment and Perception

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to watch mock jury deliberations, it’s quite possible that one mock juror stood out from the rest. Perhaps he was more vocal than the others. Maybe she interrupted those with differing views and injected her opinions. Or maybe, he just seemed to talk louder and more forcefully than other mock jurors.

When working with counsel to seat a panel of actual jurors, we constantly assess personality traits, life experiences and leadership qualities of the panel. Not only do these characteristics impact how jurors will perceive and interpret the evidence, but they also impact how group dynamics might play out during deliberations.

We recently discovered a few studies that examined how feelings of personal power can influence a person’s conduct. The findings certainly give us something to think about.

Here are a few highlights:

  1. Managers who feel empowered and/or powerful dole out more severe punishments to alleged wrongdoers than those who feel less powerful. In addition, these managers draw hard lines between right and wrong. (Wiltermuth, Flynn. Power, Moral Clarity and Punishment in the Workplace. Academy of Management Journal, 2012.)
  2. People who feel powerful tend to be strict in their judgment of others, yet are quite forgiving of their own personal transgressions. In other words, they hold others to a higher moral standard than they do themselves. Interestingly, people who feel they lack power tend to judge themselves more harshly than they do others. (Lammers, Stapel, Galinsky.  Power Increases Hypocrisy: Moralizing in Reasoning, Immorality in Behavior. Psychological Science, 2010.)
  3. When people break the rules of social conduct, they are often viewed as having positions of power by those who do not feel powerful. In addition, “rule breakers” are often held to a lower standard of conduct. In other words, powerful people are frequently given a “pass” when it comes to social niceties. (Van Kleef, Homan, Finkenauer, Gundemir, Stamkou. Breaking the Rules to Rise to Power: How Norm Violators Gain Power in the Eyes of Others. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2011.)

Feeling a sense of “power” and possessing “leadership qualities” are not always synonymous. According to S.J. Allen, “leadership is the activity of persuading people to cooperate in the achievement of a common objective.” A good leader will always try to influence change and work toward a common goal; a powerful person does not necessarily influence others or share the same goal as a group.

The next time you’re evaluating the jury pool, consider this: is your ideal juror someone who will exude power over the others, or is it someone who will guide the others towards a unified group goal?



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