#30in30 – Use their Mood to win the Game

Long before starting to study brain behavior and beginning to understand a little bit about how we make certain decisions, I – as a litigation lawyer – had to try to convince judges to rule according to my client’s claim. To reach my objectives, of course I did my part of the job: I understood the case, went through the documents, made all the legal research, and tried to write the facts in a clear and coherent way. As much as I believed in the case, however, I could never know for sure what to expect from another human’s mind. That is why my lucky amulet and my special prayer for a “judge’s good mood” were always there before a hearing or the submission of an important motion.

Believe me, this was not superstition.

From my perspective as a lawyer (based on nothing more than my experience with judges), I realized that when a magistrate is in a better mood she tends to receive me better in her office and listen to what I must say in a more open and receptive manner. When this happens, the outcome of the decision is usually positive.

You might think that I just stated the obvious and, in some extent, it might be so. It is intuitive that a person in a good mood would be more willing to welcome you in her cabinet and listen to what you must say. However, should this automatically impact in the decision? The answer should be no, as the outcome of a legal decision should be based on the law. This, however, is not always the case.

As we are not machines, the truth is that mood can directly influence how the human mind performs tasks. According to several experiments, there is a close connection between good mood, intuition, creativity, acceptance, and increased reliance on the “automatic” part of the brain. At the other pole, sadness, vigilance, suspicion, analytic approach, and increased effort also go together. A happy mood loosens the control of the more “analytic” part of the brain over performance: when in a good mood, people become more intuitive and more creative, but also less vigilant and more prone to logical errors.

A good mood is a signal that things are generally going well, the environment is safe, and it is all right to let one’s guard down. A bad mood, on the other hand, indicates that things are not going very well, there might be a threat, and vigilance is required. The connection makes sense biologically.

Of course, as lawyers, there is very little we can do to interfere in a judge’s mood. But, it is always important to be minimally aware of how human brain works and the consequences of humor in decision making as to try to use it in our favor. If you are a claimant, a good mood could be positive, whereas if you are a defendant, a little bit of “vigilance” on the judge’s part could not be as bad…