Jury Lesson #2: When Did You Decide?

Last week I was selected to the jury for a civil trial seeking personal injury damages. My first post on this topic compared the jury’s decision in the trial to a customer’s buying process. In this post, I’ll explore when decisions are made an how they are (or aren’t) changed with additional information.

When did you decide about us?

I noticed myself making a snap decision about who should win the case–the defendant–as the judge read the case summary to us less than 20 minutes after stepping into the courtroom. This was the same decision I stuck with after two days of testimony, consideration, and discussion with my fellow jurors (more about “why people talk” in the third post in this series). While I’m far from perfect, self-awareness is a focus of my personal development, and I would consider myself reasonably aware of my biases. I consciously gave extra emphasis to evidence that opposed my snap decision. I did my best to put myself in the shoes of the plaintiff, imagining how the story of a truly terrible accident could sound implausible in the harsh light of a courtroom.

And as we, the jury, entered deliberations it seemed that everyone else had already reached a decision. Conveniently, we all agreed, and submitted our verdict in time to beat the rush hour traffic home. Driving home, I recalled other situations at work and at home where I knew I would be presented with a slate of evidence and asked to make a decision. Which CRM software should we install? Should we extend the timeline on the capital project? Can my daughter have another story before bedtime?

I’d propose that most of our decisions are made well before we’ve heard most (or any) of the evidence. Dual Process Theory suggests that “system 1” evolved to make lifesaving decisions quickly, and still dominates (see my previous post on how soak time can improve complex decisions). In their book Switch, Dan & Chip Heath characterize our belief-based decisions as an elephant with a rational rider attempting to steer it along (read a summary at Soundview). We must also be vigilant against confirmation bias when our role is to make objective decisions.

So the next time you encounter a similar situation, practice building awareness of when you’ve formed a decision, and to what extent additional evidence alters that decision. When did you decide who to vote for in the next Presidential Election??


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