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Good Group Tips in the Jury Room

Craig interviews special guest Henry Chance who recently served as a Jury Foreman and used many of Craig’s Good Group Tips to help the jury reach 4 unanimous verdicts.

So much to learn from this interview. Thanks Henry!

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

This video covers a lot of ground so here’s a guide to where you can find key topics

Corporate culture of learning  1:08

Jury foreman selection  1:48

Facilitator neutrality  3:48

Facilitating unanimous agreement  4:28

Setting emotions aside  6:48

Focusing the group  7:36

Separating truth from consequences  8:43

Don’t work a single problem too far  9:17

Straw polls  10:11

Opinion confidence straw polls  11:42

Focus on resolving doubts  12:40

How to tease out concerns  13:28

Group unity at the start  15:06

Team building? Warm up? Nope.  17:18

Among friends helps efficiency  18:33

Role of humor  19:10

The value of end-of-day comments  20:32

Take stock of where things stand  20:58

Learn process from easy topics first  23:25

Deliberate order of topics  24:24

The call to civic duty as an honor  25:10


Here’s what Craig and Henry say in the video

Craig: Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley here, and as you can see I have a special guest.

This is Henry Chance. Henry has been a fan of my good group tips for many years and recently he sent me a PowerPoint presentation that he gave at his company, and lo and behold this presentation was riddled with references to my good group tips! He was using them in a real-life application, so I’ve asked him to come into the office today and tell us a little bit about what that presentation covered.

Henry, welcome.

Henry: Thank you. So as I was saying, the reason that I got inspired to do this brownbag lunch for my company is our company’s name is DRT Strategies, and DRT stands for Driving Resolution Together, and so I figured that if we’re going to be a company that has that in our name and our brand we should be a company that is really good at running meetings.

Craig: Right, and I know that you have a culture at your company of giving these brownbag lunches to each other so you can do shared learning, and you gave a presentation on this particular experience – can you tell us about that?

Henry: So in November of 2016, I was asked by the District of Columbia to preside over a jury. So that’s not something that you’ve actually volunteered for, you’re “volun-told” to go to jury duty like everyone else.

So while I was there hearing about this case, due to the seating arrangement in the jurors room, for deliberation I ended up being closest to the whiteboard and the markers, and so it became very convenient for my fellow jurors to pick me as foreman.

Craig: This is a classic, right? The guy who just happens to be sitting closest to the markers gets chosen as the facilitator, in this case, the jury foreman.

So this was a pretty high-stakes trial right? There were three charges that had to do with drug possession. We don’t need to know all the details of the case, but how did you find yourself applying the tips and your other meeting facilitation skills in a jury deliberation kind of setting?

Henry: So the most important thing for me to get through the trial as foreman was I needed to find a way to reframe what I was doing. I don’t have any legal background or expertise, which of course is one of the reasons why they pick people with non-legal expertise to be jurors. But I still needed to get through this, and I still needed to help everyone else get to a verdict. So I framed this as something I did understand a lot about, which was running meetings.

Craig: Oh, right. I can hold this, by the way. I know it’s a little awkward, we’ve got one mic between us – we’ll just take turns.

So you do run meetings in your job, as part of your job. And so, you treated this as another meeting – “this is like a way that I can add value, this is a skill that I have”, and I know you and I chatted before we started the camera running that you took this meeting facilitation job very seriously right? You wanted to be neutral to serve the group.

Tell us about that, because often times people are in a position of needing to be neutral and serve the group as facilitator yet at the same time having a strong opinion, and you were beginning to develop an opinion about this guy’s guilt or innocence. How did you manage that?

Henry: So before we started the actual deliberation, the judge read instructions to the jury about what we were supposed to do and what we were not supposed to do, but one of the requirements that we had before we started deliberating was finding out that our verdict had to be unanimous. So whatever decision we came to, we had to all agree on the four counts that he was charged with, he was innocent or he was guilty unanimously for every single verdict.

So my job became not persuading everyone to come to my opinion; what I believed what was going to get us through the meeting was to go get us to a point where we could all agree with confidence that our opinion was right, and if I can get everyone to agree together that this was the right choice then, given there are 12 people in the room, we were probably going to have confidence that we had reached the right call.

Craig: I love that – many times when I’m the facilitator I’m perfectly comfortable setting aside my own opinion because I trust in the group, and especially if it’s a situation where unanimity is required, I would be able to say look if all these other 11 people think the same way, and it’s been a good process that I have managed, I’m probably going to vote right with them, and that lets me let go and not lead with my opinion, it sounds like you did that a little bit too.

What were some facilitation techniques that you learned from my tips or that you’ve learned in your works that you found particularly helpful in managing this jury deliberation?

Henry: Well I think that this was a very high-stakes trial in the sense that everyone’s emotions were very peaked by the facts in the case, and by the facts of the world around us. This trial took place the week of the 2016 presidential election, and we heard the trial on Monday and Tuesday and then on Wednesday the day after the election results is when we began deliberation.

So what I really tried to focus on in my role as foreman was getting people to set their emotions aside, and it wasn’t a scenario where I could say, ‘Okay guys take your emotions and set them aside.’ I had to, you know, actively and subtly find ways to get them thinking about the facts of the charge that we are talking about, and since the four charges had some interdependency, but in some ways they are independent of one another, I had to say what we know that there’s issues with these other three charges, but let’s just focus on this one charge right now. What we know about this? What we not know? What are our concerns? What questions do we have?

Craig: Right. I want to ask you in a minute some techniques if you can remember that you used to focus the group, because in this case in particular, you had a lot of boundaries. You were required by law to focus on certain things and actually let go of other things. Like the judge told you that sentencing is none of your business. You were instructed that there were other things that were clearly out of bounds. You didn’t have a full array of options to you in every case. You had to get this group focused on one charge at a time, and one charge within certain parameters. Can you remember some specifics that you did to help focus the group?

Henry: One of the things that we did to help focus the group, and what you alluded to with the judge saying that the sentencing could not play into our decision was – we had to separate the truth from the consequences, and that was very difficult to do because we knew that some of the charges were small and were going to have small consequences, but other charges are going to be life-changing for both the defendant and for everyone who knew him. So all we could do was just try and say what happened and the way that we got people to do that, we got each other to do it, because this is a group participation, really to get to this verdict, to the verdicts I should say – we would work on part of a charge, the parts we knew, and when the emotions got high we would step back and take a break. And when we got to an avenue where we didn’t have enough information or we needed to send a question back to the judge, we would work a second angle and then come back to take a break.

Craig: I love that – that’s a technique that I often use. You work on one part of the problem for a little bit and then you take a break and work on another part of the problem and then come back to it. I find that very useful.

Another technique I know that you used in this jury deliberation was straw polls, and there was some resistance to when you suggested a straw poll and almost always when I suggest a straw poll there is resistance. Can you tell me how that worked and how they came around to doing straw polls later in the deliberation?

Henry: So the first straw poll I took was actually fairly foolhardy.  The way they outline the charges the most severe charges were the first in the order. So we took the most severe, most consequential charge and immediately I said something to the effect of, “Alright, who thinks he’s guilty?” I was more tactful than that at the time but what I said versus what I heard, they basically heard me and thought that was very cavalier, and so that was the wrong approach to take for that particular straw poll, but that got everyone talking about, “How are we going to figure this out? How are we going to analyze the facts of the case?” And so we started getting a lot of intercommunication between the various people on what they thought was important and what they thought wasn’t important.

Later on, at the end of that day of deliberation I attempted another straw poll and this one was was different in nature. We had resolved two of the charges – we had determined verdicts for the smaller two charges, and on the two much bigger charges that we had to contend with I asked, “Without revealing what your opinion is – guilty or innocent – how confident do you feel in your opinion? Do you feel confident in your opinion or do you have doubts?” And some people raised their hand and said they felt very confident in their opinion. Other people raised their hand and said they had doubts, they weren’t very confident with their opinion. I was able to use that information.

Craig: Right, what did you do with that?

Henry: I was able to use that information and say alright, so for tomorrow’s discussion our focus is going to be on resolving doubts.

Craig: I love it.

Henry: And once we’ve resolved our doubts then are going to see if we have strong opinions that are all unanimous. And if we do, then our work is done. If we all have strong opinions that are not unanimous then we’ll figure out what to do next.

Craig: Right. So how did you work on the doubt issue? I suppose if I was in a meeting facilitating I would want to ask the doubters: what questions do you need answered to help you with your doubt? But what did you do, do you remember?

Henry: Some people had trouble I think expressing, verbalizing what their doubts were.

Craig: Right!

Henry: Or why they didn’t like the path we were going down, and so we tried teasing out some of that with specific questioning about the nature of the charges, or the circumstances of the arrest. Ultimately one of the things we did that was most effective was that we wrote on a whiteboard and graphed what the material was that the defendant was caught with, versus previous cases that detectives referenced, comparing it to other arrests they’ve made, to try to determine what the defendant’s intent was. That was the sticking point with this case, is that you knew what the defendant had, but what did the defendant actually intend to do? That was the hardest part of the trial.

Craig: I learned a lot about the trial and in this case a defendant was caught with illegal drugs and a key question was – did he have intention to distribute? And that was the charge, one of the charges, probably the hardest one, and probably one with the greatest consequences that you all had to deliberate on.

You had, as is the case with all juries and that’s the wonderful thing about juries, you had a wide variety of people with different levels of experience with meetings and group decision making, and all different kinds of opinions about how the process should be done, and you are thrown together not knowing each other. How did that work? How did you get to know each other and suss each other out and even come up with a shared understanding of making this decision?

Henry: You know it’s funny, I don’t think I could tell you three facts about any of my fellow jurors. We all, except for sharing names, we were all fairly anonymous, and so getting to know each other didn’t really happen and that was unusual because normally I have ways I can interact with people or connect with them and this was much more difficult. I don’t think that there was any good way given our circumstances, and given the somberness not only of the week for Washington DC, being a very blue district, and for the severity of the charges, there were several undertones, undercurrents that ran throughout the trial. Questions of race, questions of police intent, questions of social class and economic class that were never explicitly said, but were felt at least by me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other jurors felt the same tensions as we tried to sort out what happened.

Craig: Well this is fascinating because there’s a folklore out there among facilitators and group trainers and what not, that it’s worthwhile investing time in team building, a warm-up exercise, that we’re going to have a better meeting and our time is going to be more efficient and we have a bigger chance of getting a good decision if we invest time in getting to know each other. But in this case, you invested like no time in getting to know each other. The stakes were extremely high. You set down to business and by the way I hope I am not giving it away but this Jury came to unanimous decision on all four counts after how many hours of deliberation?

Henry: We had about about 12 hours of deliberation, spanning two days

Craig: So call it a 12 hour meeting, four unanimous decisions, and you invested no time whatsoever in a warm-up exercise or teambuilding or anything like that – you set right to business.

Henry: And this was a difficult case. I would’ve been much more comfortable deliberating this with 11 other people that I knew, that I trusted, that I had previous experience with, because that would have allowed me to talk about things in ways that I was comfortable talking about. My straw poll probably would’ve gone over much better amongst friends than amongst a group of strangers. But there was no good way for us to leave the formality and the somberness of the case to actually get to know each other better.

Craig: So there is some other folklore out there in the meeting facilitation world that humor is useful. I particularly love it when somebody cracks a joke. Or if we can get the group laughing a little bit, I find that very helpful. Was there any humor in that jury deliberation room?

Henry: We had two small instances of humor, I think, two small opportunities during the breaks. One about the clock which hadn’t changed over to daylight savings time, and another about trying to find parking and the Metro to get to the place. But otherwise it was a very serious meeting.

Craig: I’m going to ask you about one more technique here, and then I want to ask you a general question about any conclusions – I suppose I’ll ask if you had to do this again, be thrown into a facilitation role where you’re required to make a unanimous decision, would you do anything differently? That question is coming. But first another specific technique you used is one that I’m very fond of, I call it “closing comments”. You were near the end of the first day and you had a little time left on your hands. Tell me a little bit about how you used that time.

Henry: So we reached a point in our discussion about the two most serious charges where emotions had really taken over the discussion instead of reasoning. So we weren’t going to make any progress; we were going to go into the next day of deliberation. With the time that we had left before we would be excused for the day I tried to wrap things up. This is when I took the second straw poll to ask how everyone felt, about their opinion, what they had doubts on, and I also took that time to outline the things that we knew were facts – evidence against, evidence on behalf of the defendant, things that we didn’t know how to categorize – and then in the last topic what questions we had that we still need to figure out.

Craig: Alright. A nice recap of where you stood.

Henry: And we wrote all that down on the board and that basically saved where we were in the meeting for next time.

Craig: Right, but you did give everybody a chance to say a last word.

Henry: I did do that as well and that did a lot to ease the tension. There were a lot of people who all were in one camp about the defendants, who did not want to convict the defendant, and they were feeling, rightly or wrongly, more and more put-upon by the majority who felt the defendant was guilty. They took that opportunity at the end of the day to say, “We’re feeling really pressured and we don’t like that.” And they had a captive audience: everyone was listening to them and they had a chance to get that out there, release that tension that had been bottling up inside them, and the next day I think that not only did they feel better that they were being heard, but they also didn’t feel like they were pushing against a resistive force.

Craig: Right! That’s so helpful to hear. So any lessons learned here – if you had to do it again, would you do things differently? Yeah, tell me.

Henry: If I had to do one thing differently, I would have probably started out by saying: these are the four charges. Which ones do we want to tackle first? We took them in sequential order, and that was the biggest mistake we made. We would’ve saved ourselves much more time and saved a lot of stress as well, if we had taken the very easy charges, the charges that not even the defense were denying or making a case against, because that would have let us to set up our formal processes for taking the vote, for going through all the motions and procedures that we had to go through as a jury on a softball question, compared to the really heavy hitters.

Craig: Yeah, right. That’s great to hear and that too is very instructive and a good reminder; so many times a group has a list of four things to do and the impulse is “well let’s just take them in order”, and honestly I very rarely do that. When I have the time to think about it, and when I’m not just thrown into a facilitation situation, but if you have time to think about it to really think about what is the most logical helpful most promising order to take the issues.

When I asked you is there one thing you would do differently I thought maybe you’d say “not sit next to the markers.”

Henry: I had little control over that unfortunately.

Craig: Aren’t you glad that you served as foreman? I bet you are.

Henry: It is an experience that I would recommend to everyone – if you’re called up for civic duty, absolutely do it, don’t try to get out of it – because if there’s one thing that stuck in my mind after this whole thing it’s that there’s possibly no better place to know the health of our country’s government than sitting in a court room as a juror.

Craig: Nice. That’s a great closing comment. Well it sounds like you feel that justice was served in this case and you were proud to be a part of it.

Henry: I take my civic duties seriously.

Craig: Nice. Well, thank you very much, Henry. It’s been great talking with you. I really appreciate not only that you did your civic duty but you were very serious and deliberate about applying good facilitation techniques and you put it all into a PowerPoint presentation for your colleagues and you came down here and talked to me about it. I really appreciate it. It’s great.

Henry: Great to see you Craig.

5 thoughts on “Good Group Tips in the Jury Room

  1. How the profile of a jury can influence the verdict is far from clear-cut, anyway. In recent years, some campaign groups have called for gender quotas in rape cases, on the assumption that a woman’s perspective on rape is drowned out by the man’s perspective, resulting in unjust acquittals. If that were true, one would expect that female-dominated juries would convict more readily than male- dominated ones.

  2. Thank you for these group tips in the jury room. I’d imagine that jury consulting services help in the process too. I’m glad that as Americans, we have the opportunity to be judged by our peers.

  3. Wow. Extremely helpful. I’m heading into day 2 of deliberation of a similar case with 13 charges. Great insight. Thanks

  4. Thanks so much for your comment, Glenn.
    Glad you found this helpful.
    Good luck with your jury deliberations!
    Thank you for your service.

  5. Excellent discussion; I am being empaneled on a jury tomorrow and I am glad I had this refresher course. I had been previously selected as foreman of a felony murder trial about a decade ago, and I wish I had seen this discussion prior, as it was a difficult experience. Thank you

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