Lawyers have a useful tool when preparing witnesses to testify, especially if they have concerns about what they will say or how defensible they will sound. Lawyers will assume the role of opposing counsel and ask the tough questions that go to the heart of the case.
This often causes the staunchest defenders of bad fact patterns to recognize that there are holes in their position and settlement makes sense. They don’t like the idea that they’ll look bad in front of a judge or jury or that sometimes their testimony may have even more distasteful results in the court of public opinion.
On TV or in the movies, the technique works because of the brilliant round-about way the questions are posed, the intransigence and bluster of the witness, the fact that a few subtle facts reveal falsified documents, dishonest statements or elaborative cover-ups. The drama keeps our attention and drives up ratings. But that’s for movies, TV or theater and not the way even the most successful cross examinations usually play out. Instead, hard work, preparation and logic carry the day.
We can’t all ask questions like Perry Mason or other great legal characters of stage and screen, and most of us work in the trenches of daily business. Yet we can apply the same kinds of questioning skills to get others to think about their decisions whether they result in matters tied to workplace concerns like ethics, discrimination, potential harassment or other practices which may have a damaging business impact.
If done properly, what I’ll call a “business cross-examination,” can help correct a problem or change a damaging practice before the drama of sworn testimony. The key is to simply look at the situation, particularly an ongoing or “custom” form of practice and ask those who support it or engage in it to explain the business advantages of their conduct.
Here’s an example. A small but hardy group of business leaders, physicians and researchers sometimes use threats, intimidation, insults and derision to get people to do what they want. It’s a habit they’ve learned from others, which can distract, de-motivate, and disorient those around them even if it does get results.
Use the business cross-examination to get them and others to see that the harm exceeds the benefits especially as other methods could obtain the same results. A few questions to ask in the midst of a business discussion could go like this:
• How could screaming or calling this person an idiot get them to do a better job?
• How does that relate to what we say is a value of respect?
• Do you think that was the best way to get your point across?
• Do you think that this will get them to perform at their very best?
• If they have talent and other opportunities, why would they want to be treated this way at work?
Ask questions like this and give the person time to think; ask others if they see it the same way. And, my ultimate question: If I and others have trouble seeing why this is good for business, do you think anyone else will?
Questions like these settle cases. And they can do a lot to avoid them before the lawyers have to ply their craft.