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Make sure your voice is heard

Jury Selection #1

Whether or not you agree with the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial, it’s not easy making life-and-death decisions that will forever be scrutinized and second-guessed by the public. The more infamous the case, the greater the responsibility—and the potential criticism.

As another defense attorney admonished the jury during summation in a long ago show trial, “you are the only bulwark that can resist oppression in a time of public excitement. Judges cannot do it. The fathers of this country put this power in the hands of the people.” If that burden weren’t enough, the attorney went on to assure jurors the accused was “the kind of man who never fails a friend. He was loved by his followers. Open-handed, generous, a man a bookmaker would trust with a ten-thousand-dollar bet.”

No mention of whether he wore a halo.

It doesn’t matter if you’re on a jury, a workplace team, or a PTA committee. The hard part starts when you’re shoved into a room and expected to reach consensus on important issues that could have an impact on lives, careers, projects, or others’ welfare. How do you maintain your own integrity without stomping on everyone else’s right to be heard? Remember this advice:

• Set boundaries. Treat everyone in the group respectfully and insist they treat you respectfully. Rather than responding in kind to belligerence, quietly refuse to interact with people who become abusive. Ignore them and continue the discussion around them. If others follow your lead, rude participants will soon learn to adapt to the majority or risk being excluded from the conversation.

• Nix prejudices. Beware of assuming you can guess people’s opinions based on their age, race, gender, ethnicity, country or region of origin, or any other arbitrary criteria. Try not to make judgments about how people are going to feel until they’ve had time to explain their views. Your prejudgments could be wrong or might have you devising mental counter-arguments when you should be listening to what others have to say.

• Accept differences. Strive to let other participants know their views are welcome and appreciated. Exercise your own good listening skills, and speak up for less bold members of the group when dissenters try to intimidate them into silence. Stress that you can’t reach genuine consensus unless everyone has the opportunity to express opinions.

• Maintain perspective. Expect people to disagree with you—especially when the subject is controversial or the stakes are high. And try not to let their ire get to you. Some people don’t know how to disagree without resorting to “you, you, you.” But no matter how personal their argument sounds, that doesn’t mean it’s really personal. You can’t control how others approach the discussion, but you can control how you react. Stay calm, and keep reminding yourself it’s not a personal attack.

• Be honest. Never go along to get along when making a group decision. Speak your truth, whatever it takes. If your decision is irreversible—for instance, choosing how to budget finite resources or reaching a verdict in a criminal trial—you don’t want to be haunted by knowing you kept silent and went along with something you felt was wrong. Take the time required to reach a decision you can live with.

• Trust yourself. Once your group has made its decision, don’t look back. It’s easy for other people to whoop about what they would have done in your shoes … but they weren’t in your shoes. You did what you believed was right based on the information at your disposal. Second-guessing doesn’t serve any useful purpose. For your own peace of mind, let it go.

The problem with making any decision—particularly when you’re trying to reach a consensus with others—is you may never know if you made a wise choice. Sometimes the wrong thing turns out okay, or the right thing goes awry … or you never know one way or the other. On the positive side, not every decision will keep you up at night. Remember that open-handed, generous fellow his attorney would trust with a ten-thousand-dollar bet? The jury didn’t quite see it that way. They found him guilty of income tax evasion.

His name was Al Capone.

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