You’re gearing up for trial, you hardly have the time or patience to deal with an angry witness. Yet there you are, in the unenviable position of having to prepare a witness who is angry for any number of reasons:
– The witness is a client, angry that this matter couldn’t be settled or that it even is in litigation at all.
– The witness is furious at being “required” to testify.
– The witness has healed or substantially recovered from the incidents at issue and resents having to deal with “it” all over again.
Whatever the witness’s reason, he or she is mad! And only too happy to tell you all about how aggravated and upset they are. You try to get down to the business of prep with “OK, but we’ve got to focus on preparing you for your testimony,” which is labored, halting and difficult at best.
There is a more effective way. People in highly charged emotional states need FIRST to have their emotions thoroughly acknowledged, in order to clear their minds and hearts sufficiently to think rationally.
Start by reflecting your witness’s emotions: “It is frustrating to have to go through this again.” Let them respond with another emotional salvo, and follow that with something like “This has been really hard on you.” By now, the witness will have calmed down some, because you’re not resisting their emotion, you’re acknowledging it. Notice how the acknowledgement is done in third person, non-inflammatory terms. Once you sense that the witness is less angry, you’re ready to open the prep session with the use of the word ‘and.’ “And that’s why we’re here today—to prepare you so the jurors can understand your perspective.”
More than anything, emotionally wrought people want just one thing – to be genuinely heard.