Fear and the Power of Persuasion

Quite often litigators use fear as a means of persuasion. They often use threats and intimidation as a means of leverage. Does it work? It depends. One cardinal rule before you threaten or use scare tactics to persuade: Make absolutely certain you can follow through with your threat. The failure to be able to back up your claim will erode your credibility as fast as being caught telling a lie.

Another important rule to know before using threats as a way to persuade: Give the target a means to remedy the threat. The Journal of Psychology and Social Study has published some interesting studies on this phenomenon over the years. One such study gave college students a pamphlet detailing the dire consequences of contracting a certain disease. half the students were then told that they should get a vaccine. The other half were warned about the disease but not told about the vaccine. Needless to say, the group that was given specific steps on how to address the fear were much more likely to address the problem.

This is true in litigation as well. If you make a threat: 1. Be able to back it up; and 2. Give your opponent clear instructions on how to avoid the threat.


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