Friday, October 31, 2014

Men and Women Are Different: Choose Gender-Friendly Words in Formulating Voir Dire

Men and women are different. No big surprise there. They think differently. Still no big surprise. So it should come as no surprise that men and women respond differently when asked a voir dire question in the same way. But this isn’t a thought that occurs to attorneys most of the time; they ask questions of prospective jurors as if gender didn’t matter.

Gender matters!

Ask a male juror how he feels about something, and he’s likely to say “I dunno” or “Not much one way or the other.” Ask a male juror what his opinion is on the same matter, and he’ll usually expound with gusto. He will tell you more about himself by the opinions he stands firm on, and those he’s middling about or indifferent to, than just about any other indicator (except occupation).

Ask a female juror how she feels about an issue, and she’s likely to be verbose. She knows exactly how she feels about everything and is usually willing to share. Ask a female juror her opinion and you might not get much of anything. For the most part, “opinion” is for female jurors what “feelings” are for male jurors.

Word choice matters! Certainly the above is a generalization, and some women hold strong opinions, formulated as such, and some men are frank about their feelings. When it comes to voir dire, however, start by using the word that generally elicits the most informative response from the gender you are addressing. You can always make a different choice as you observe the response you get.

And oh, by the way, “What has your experience been with XYZ?” tends to be gender-neutral, in that both male and female jurors tend to be equally forthcoming when asked about their experience or lack thereof.

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