Lessons on Communication from Juror #2

Posted on: 09/26/11 11:12 AM | by Jonathan McKee

“Did he have the “intent” to sell drugs, beyond reasonable doubt?”

That was the question I had to ponder most of the week last week, then deliberate with 11 other jurors for several hours. I learned several lessons on jury duty last week as Jurur #2, most of them about communication. I’m going to share two important truths about communication, lessons that might help both parents and youth workers trying to communicate with young people. But first let me share a little about this case.

It was an interesting week, emotionally draining as well. Maybe it’s because I really love teenagers, and the jury I sat on was for a case where a young man’s future rested in our hands.

The accused in this case was a young man who was caught with numerous “dime bags” of marijuana, loitering in a know location for drug dealing, thus the charge of “intent to sell.”

The lawyers told us right out of the blocks that the word “intent” was going to be the key to this case. Everything else was cut and dry. He was there, he had the drugs on his person, he had sold there before… the evidence was clear. The question was simply, “Did this kid just buy this stuff, or was he there to sell it?”

“The people” (the young lady who worked at the DA’s office- the one accusing the boy of intent) presented hours upon hours of evidence and testimony attempting to prove that his conduct that evening was that of someone who sells drugs, nothing else. We needed to be convinced “beyond reasonable doubt.”

The “defense” for the young man tried to raise more than “reasonable doubt” by raising questions in our minds. “Could he just have been a buyer?”

This was really tough for us as jurors. The police, the experts and everyone with experience in the matter produced an immaculate case leaving very little doubt that the defendant was there to sell. (Who buys that many bags, then just hangs out there waiting to get busted? I felt like the defense had a good opportunity to raise some doubt in our minds. But she fumbled, big time.

Accordingly, LESSON ONE in communication: Keep your message short!

No, I’m not just talking to youth workers here (I’ve spent numerous blogs talking about the importance of keeping our messages short), I’m also addressing parents. I know that I tend to lectured on and on when my kids get into trouble. Sometimes it’s just more effective to keep it short and memorable.

This defense lawyer had the opportunity to focus her attention on the few facts that could have really helped her case. She could have raised some serious doubt by simply asking, “How do we know that he wasn’t waiting for a ride?” “How do we know he wasn’t buying for all his buddies and going to a party?” She could have focused on the simple facts that would have raised questions in all the jurors’ minds. Instead, she rattled on and on, going through every detail, asking the police experts questions that backfired, only cementing the DA’s case (information that really helped us with our decision actually). Sadly for her client, she was the best advocate for “the people.” Her longwinded presentation didn’t raise questions. It cemented facts and evidence against her client.

How many times have we said something in 30 minutes that we could have said in one sentence?

As a parent I can recall numerous lectures where a simple sentence or two would have sufficed. Skip the long lecture. Try this 10-second response: “So what do you think I should do when you tell me your chores are done and then I discover that they repeatedly aren’t done? That’s what I’d like you to ponder when you are vacuuming the entire house today. Then have an answer for me by the time you’re done, or I can probably think of some other chores that would help stimulate your thinking.”

On several of the days, the defense could have benefitted from mere silence.

And that brings me to LESSON TWO, one I was reminded of once we went to deliberation: People like listeners better than talkers.

I’m a talker. I’ve always been a talker. I have to work hard at not trying to solve everything verbally and at times just… shutting up! I wasn’t alone in this room.

When we went back to the jury room, we didn’t know much about each other. There were ten women and two men, myself included. Within minutes, we quickly discovered that the room was FULL of talkers—people who obviously aren’t given much air time at home and saw this as an opportunity to finally be heard by a captive audience (emphasis on held “captive”)!

The first thing we needed to do was select a foreman. I told them that I had experience running meetings and offered to take the role if no one else would. I did this because I can’t stand chaos, and if our foreman ran a “free for all” meeting, I would have slit my wrists for sure within an hour.

Once they elected me foreman, I began by saying, “Well, would you like to take a quick vote to see where we all stand, or do some of you really want to talk some things out first?” I was thinking for sure that we would vote, but no less than 5 vocal people said, “I need to talk this out.” So I began opening up the table for discussion… and wow! We had some talkers at the table.

After an hour or so of deliberation, I tried to summarize some thoughts of people and address the direction we needed to go. It was then that I realized that I needed to keep my “summaries” and responses short. Simply reading the non-verbal cues of those around the table, I quickly surmised that people liked it better when I asked a simple question then let them talk.

This was a little weird for me. I do a lot of workshops where “I have the floor.” People want to know what I have to say.

Not in this room.

Listening had to trump talking, big time! People prefer talking than listening.

The same is always true when we talk with our kids. A few well placed questions always go further than a lecture. (Kind of cool that we have a collection of great conversation-starting questions that we collected from all of you in this blog last week.)

After much deliberation, we found the young man guilty. It was a tough decision, one I really struggled with, but I think it was the correct one. We truly found the evidence to be beyond reasonable doubt.

I’ve thought of the young man daily since Thursday when he was convicted. I continue to pray for him.