Silence Is Golden

Silence is Golden (video transcript)

“The present research shows that conversational flow is associated with positive emotions and a heightened sense of belonging, self-esteem, social validation and consensus. Presumably, people expect conversations to be fluent and therefore experience disruptions as relatively harmful…. People report feeling more rejected and experience more negative emotions when a conversation is disrupted by a silence, rather than when it flows.”
- Dr. Nanke Koudenburg University of Groningen, The Netherlands
"Witnesses often feel obligated to fill in opposing counsel's pauses by talking." -Brad Bradshaw, Ph.D. [source]

Today we’re going to talk about how silence is golden in depositions:

  Generally in a deposition you get into a rhythm where you ask a question and the witness answers. You go back and forth and it moves pretty quickly. That rhythm is good because

    a) it saves time
    b) it can actually get a witness who otherwise might be hostile into a more cooperative mode because they get used to answering your questions on a certain cadence.
  However, sometimes, silence in the deposition is the best technique. Psychologists who have studied the issue or dynamic of humans communicating with each other say that when you’re in a middle of conversation and then there’s a silence, often what’s termed an awkward silence, people have feelings of rejection and negative emotions. Well you can use that to your advantage. Once you get into a nice rhythm and ask the witness several questions in a row, then you can hit them with a question where you need a lot of detail, or you’re not sure what happened but you think the witness has information and you want them to volunteer that information.
  So what you do is you ask a question, get an answer, ask a question, get an answer, and get the witness into a nice rhythm and cadence. Then, ask your main question and let the witness answer, and when they’re finished… just wait… Many times the witness will expect you to ask another question, and if you don’t and you look at the witness expectantly, then the witness will think that maybe they need to continue to answer.
  Now sometimes this doesn’t work, but a lot of times, particularly for witnesses who are not experienced in depositions, they will continue to volunteer information or just continue talking, because the silence seems so uncomfortable for them.
  Now if you’re able to get a witness 1 time to volunteer information that they shouldn’t have cause you paused for an extra 15 or 20 seconds, then you’re getting something very valuable. The other thing is that pause is not indicated on the transcript. So it doesn’t hurt you at all to wait and see if the witness has something else to add that might benefit your case.
  We’re going to watch a short clip that shows an example of how this might work and how you can implement this technique in taking depositions.

    Q: Let’s talk about your computer. What kind is it?
    A: It’s a PC.
    Q: Do you like it?
    A: Yes.
    Q: You have computer games on it don’t you?
    A: Yes.
    Q: Does your mother say you played too long yesterday?
    A: Yes
    Q: Did you play too long?
    A: No.
    Q: What did you games did you play?
    A: Super Mario, Frogger, and Tetris.
PAUSE (7 seconds)
    I like to play Tetris. I’m really good.
PAUSE (PAUSE 10 seconds)
    Sometimes I also play Madden.
PAUSE (10 seconds)
    I scored 4 touchdowns yesterday on Madden.
    Q. So you played Super Mario, Frogger, Tetris AND Madden yesterday?
    A. Yes.
LONG PAUSE (15 seconds)
    I also played the tutorial for the new Ninja game.
    Q: So it sounds like you actually played for quite a while yesterday.
    A: Yes.