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Rules of Verbal Self Defense 

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Communication with Corporate Psychopaths Communication with Micromanagers   Groupthink Humor Etc


Is there anyone among us who hasnít at least once said something that he don't intend to say (like an offensive joke) ? Or, worse, gave up information that you did not intended to disclose. If so you need to work on this aspect of your communications.

Periodically rereading this page might help. Buying a good book on the subject can help too. Actually we all need to do this. Naturally this ability is very rare and often is observed among professional or "natural" diplomats. All others need special training. 

The first and simplest rule here is that silence is gold. There is no reason to rush any reply when you are taking with anybody, but especially with a corporate psychopath. This is actually not a talk. It is a mixture of interrogation with provocation and you need to be vigilant against dirty tricks. This five point test permits to avoid the trivial errors. To get used to it you might wish to assign each question to a finger and close fingers one by one as you check them.

  1. [Deflection test] Should you defect the question as inappropriate.
  2. [Pause test] Did you made a proper pause (10 seconds is minimum). In response needed at all ? (silence is gold). If needed if can you ask to release the question to ensure you understand it correctly and to have time to prepare for the answer (Stanislavski used to say "the greater the artists the greater the pause" ;-)
  3. [Negative politeness test] Is your response non-confrontational? Does it contain sarcasm, "always/never" language. Do not try to communicate your emotional state. It does not matter.
  4. [Factuality test] Are you trying to communicate the facts and only the facts? Convey only one thought in each sentence. Do not provide extra information as it often can serve as ammunition against you.
  5. [Information leakage test] Do you volunteer sensitive information to the psychopath. Psychopaths are great in playing weak spots and provoking you to be frank. Never do this. People have moments of weakness communicating with a psychopath (Stockholm syndrome ?) and in such moment can tell the other party things about which they can regret for a long time. Think about psychopath as other, evil specie of humans: they really are.

A helpful tip that simplifies communication with corporate psychopath is to imagine yourself in torture camera with an inquisitor presiding questioning you. It's actually pretty close analogy as he/she is you boss and being a sadist, who enjoys inflicting pain. Other useful analogy that can help is deposition in a court (see below). You can also try to imitate a robot -- that a very good counter play against corporate psychopath because he is also a robot that assumed human mask -- everything is false in him/her, emotions, statement of qualification, facts of biography he/she carefully reveled, etc.

  1. Listen carefully to every question and make a pause before the answer. Always (I mean always !) pause 5 or 10 seconds before answering, make sure you understand the question, think it over, and only then try to answer; then be direct with your answer. Those 5-10 seconds can save you from a lot of troubles.
  2. Short answers are the best. Do not offer any information you more than asked of you. Answer only the question asked of you, and then stop talking. Do not add any commentary. One of the oldest (and most effective) techniques is, once you've given your answer, the lawyer looks at you as if to say: "Keep talking." Do not fall into this trap. Just look back at him calmly and politely as if to say: "I am waiting on you to ask another question."
  3. Systematically use pause before an answer to weight and reassess your options. Do not jump to answer or reply to anything. Do not attempt to be smooth. This is not a conversation. You might use you watches to ensure proper pause before an answer or to keep silence and back off if you speak too much.
  4. Be very polite and very formal, practice negative politeness. Always say: "Yes, sir," or "No, ma'am," ....
  5. Never argue, just state the facts. Avoid Absolute Words. You are well advised to avoid, where possible, absolute words such as "always" and "never." Absolute words are an invitation to additional questions: never say "never"...
  6. Donít elaborate or volunteer any information. Volunteering information can be one of the biggest mistakes an expert makes at deposition. Generally, an expert should answer only the questions she is asked and not volunteer information. The volunteering of information will almost always result in new lines of cross-examination. It may also disclose information to which counsel otherwise never would have become privy.
  7. Do not, for any reason, exhibit hostile feelings or aggression towards corporate psychopath.
  8. Do not tell jokes or say anything sarcastic...
  9. Keep your composure, maintain your focus and your credibility. Ignore emotional tantrums from psychopath as they are usually carefully planned provocations. They are provocations and are aimed squarely to get you out of balance so that you make a mistake or blunder.
  10. Ask for a break, or ask permission to bring coffee if you feel the need to expend some emotion or situation got out of control

 Some commonsense rules of communicating with corporate psychopaths

There are some commonsense rules of communicating with corporate psychopaths.

  1. The less you talk the longer you survive.  Overtakativeness is a mortal danger when dealing with psychopathic boss.  And typically it is a sign of deeper problems with the person. Those suffering from this problem might also suffer from poor self-discipline or poor self control, or even impulsivity (tendency to act without thinking.). The same is true about excessive use of email or social networks. While extraversion is  generally pro-social, overtakativeness is not and here such a trait is huge liability. Terms as "talk too much",  gossipy all suggest that people devalue those who talk beyond normative levels and that that can create hostile attitude to you. That means that this fault alone greatly undermine your social status and thus can skillfully be used to isolate you.  Probably around 10% of office population can be classifies as "talk-prone".  McCroskey and Richmond (1995, sited from even developed "talkabolic" scale. And this is far from benign diagnosis. Compulsive talkers are typically passed over promotions.
  2. Establish and maintain a safe distance. Active listening and empathy with corporate psychopaths ( giving a bully a sympathetic ear ) will perpetuate the abuse. Don't trust anything communicated to you by such a person, don't complain, don't ask for a favors. Practice "Negative Politeness". The main focus for using this strategy is to impose a distance between you and the opponent by showing that you do not intrude into their private space and expect them the same. Establish some social distance by using several techniques, such as:
  3. Check everything he/she said for truthfulness. Learn to differentiate  manipulation, especially manipulation using guild or pity --  a typical trick by women sociopath. Remember that you deal with very talented actor/actresses and able the pity play is high  on the list of sociopathic techniques. It's okay to pity someone who has gone through difficult times, but if you find yourself feeling sorry for someone's sad story, make sure the story is true. If we are talking about females, the pity play should be a warning sign to all of us as this is a very typical tool for female sociopaths. ):
  4. Protect your boundaries. Always remember between the main difference between manipulation and motivation:  
  5. Never trust such a boss, especially his good intentions ("good cop" manipulation attempts), they are all phony.  The next time he/she will be different ("bad cop").
  6. Use silence as a weapon. Many people feel uncomfortable with silence and are tempted to fill it with their next question or comment. However, your silence could induce the other person to keep talking. Try it with a friend; avoid the temptation to jump in as quickly as you normally would, and see what happens. Silence can be a powerful motivator for sociopath to treat you differently. They tend to attack such persons more rarely. The problems arise if you are naturally predisposed to gossip. In this case this became a huge challenge that requires constant work and reminders. According to Bostrom and Harrington (1999, p. 73), this can be viewed as a mild addiction.   It has several important similarities with other types of addition summarized by Griffiths (1998), in his chapter on Internet Addiction, as a litmus test for CAD:
    1. Salience: talk may be a primary and most important activity to a person. A person may be thinking about what s/he will talk about the next time s/he will be talking (see Berger & Jordan, 1992)
    2. Mood modification: Some people enjoy talking to one another, and receiving acceptance and liking through such talk is an affectively enhancing activity (Bell & Daly, 1984).
    3. Tolerance: As discussed in the case of the talkaholic, there seems to be a need among some to talk all the time. An upper limit cannot be established, since some people can (a) talk all their waking hours, (b) stay up talking long past their normal sleep intervals, or even (c) even talk in their sleep (personal conversation, Sandra Walther, 1982-1999, passim).
    4. Withdrawal symptoms: Again, in the case of the talkaholic, some are uncomfortable when they cannot speak.
    5. Conflict: As noted, the social partners of talkaholics can readily identify this disturbing behavior, and excessive talk conflicts with other desirable activities such as listening or attending to class material.
    6. Relapse: Since talkaholism is so tolerated in society and there is as yet no treatment for it, no relapse data are available. As talkaholics have tried unsuccessfully to reduce their speech, there is a high potential for this syndrome to be intractable. Clearly there is cause for the recognition that some people talk too much and that their talk is out of control. It upsets others, and may have deleterious effects on their social lives based on its sheer excess alone; like Internet Addiction, excessive talk may be harmful on the basis that its very activity leads one to ignore other important aspects of healthy social interaction. Yet, like excessive Internet activity, there are specific activities and functions to which talk is often put, which are also potentially harmful. Before we impugn talk on the basis of its sheer excess among compulsive users, we should examine to what ends talk may be put, to see if there is cause for alarm that it is an activity that draws its users into unseemly and socially undesirable behaviors in its own right. We may find instruction again from the socially unacceptable ills of the Internet, which include interacting with strangers, identity manipulations, deception, sexual deception and coercion, and flaming.
  7. Try to deflect the attacks. Ignore negative criticism and do not allow them to wound your self-respect or exploit you by emotional blackmail. Expect the following accusations:


  8. Carefully watch the adjectives you use to describe the thinking/behavior/situation you are criticizing.
    1. Refer to incidents and examples of manager behavior as observations you have made, not to as things that the manager has done. Always ask for feedback.
    2. Say 'I am aware of' or 'I have noticed a trend' rather than 'You did' or 'When you'. When things go wrong, a positive attitude means a lot to people who work with you, including your boss.
    3. Communicate questions or suggestions for solutions, rather than complaints.
    4. Volunteer suggestions to mitigate the problem, and don't be offended if they're not always implemented.
    5. Avoid sarcasm: this is like putting salt into wounds of low self-esteem people.
    6. Never say never ;-) Avoid "always" and "never" language. Since exaggerated language is rarely true, the whole statement is negated by the listener. ''You always leave a disaster behind you." ''You never get your payroll in on time." Avoid non neutral or offensive working as well as working the presuppose direct demands: Prohibited phases or approaches include but are not limited to.
      • I think you overlooked
      • You made a mistake
      • You don't know
      • Do you know
      • You cannot
      • You should
    7. Avoid stating how the boss behavior emotionally affects you. For example correct communication is "I have difficulties to achieve this objectives without timely responses on my request" vs. incorrect "You always ignore me! You make me so angry!"  (see below on avoiding too broad generalization like "always and never" language. Never say never ;-)
    8. When offering criticism, itís wise to concentrate on possible solutions not statements related to facts. If you did not ruff the feathers of manager some of them might be accepted.
    9. Do not make generic critical remarks or exaggerate the problems. Such managers are loaded with venom and anger that won't enable your direct criticism to be heard. Instead of saying, "Your expectations are completely ridiculous, you'll never get your work done,"...try, "I analyzed by year workload spreadsheet and it looks like those timeline expectations need to be worked at a little bit further"
  9. Study shallow language of negative criticism produced by managers and learn to distinguish typical "blows under the belt" and traps. Phychopatic managers are prominent masters of negative criticism which leaves manager's slaves feeling hurt, defensive, and afraid about being criticized more. You should understand that manager produces negative criticism like cow produces milk. This is not personal, this is just a manifestation of manager psychopath core. Also they repeats the same tricks again and again:
  10. Speak at least twice slower then you normally do. Each time you want to say something avoid traps and check five things:
  11. Manage your anger. Don't overreact to the manager outbursts. Keep your cool. If you become too simmering with anger especially during another outburst of manager, try to stay cool. This guy is just a jerk after all and does not deserve strong emotional reaction. Force yourself to concentrate on the message instead of the manager tone or accusations. Message can be and often is quite different and more connected with manager internal problems and insecurities then you think.

    Corporate psychopaths are often petty sadists who like to vent out their problems by torturing other people.  Ask yourself: "What is he or she actually saying and what actual problem might be behind all this outbursts.

  12.  Always remains within the boundaries of office etiquette even in case of acute provocations. Later carefully document this particular outburst as another case of abuse. Inform superiors about this behavior using anonymous feedback provided by your company, were your anonymity will (formally) be protected.
  13. In case you feel that this might be a trap, say that you are not ready to accept or decline the proposal and you need more time.
  14. Learn to listen between line and analyzing the real meaning behind the words
    1. Keep analyzing what the speaker's saying as he talks. Mentally sum up what's been said. manager are pathological liars. Weigh the evidence by considering whether the facts are accurate and the viewpoints are objective, or whether the manager tries to misinform you.

    2. Listen between the lines. Concentrate not only on what's being said but also on the attitudes, needs and motives behind the words. Remember that the manager words may not always contain the entire message.

      The changing tones and volume of the speaker's voice may have meaning. So may facial expressions, gestures and body movements.

      Being alert to nonverbal cues increases your total comprehension of the message.

    3. For example, sometimes the message and behavioral cues differ considerably.

      For example if the manager says he's excited about an idea or project, his lack of spontaneous movement, wandering or downcast eyes, unanimated tone of voice, masked face or hunched posture may indicate he feels differently.

  15. Remember about manager patsies. Forget about BS of "establishing trust". The first thing manager destroys is trust and you need to be aware that he tries to entice your weaker colleagues to spy on you. In such environment a weaker personalities often adopts the role of patsy as a self-protection mechanism and might even comply and even try to provoke you to "frank talk" which will be reported to psychopathic manager. The environment a psychopath creates is characterized by old Latin quote "Homo homini lupus est" ( Man is a wolf to his fellow-man.). They build up a power base and because they are paranoid, they turn all subordinates into paranoia wrecks: everyone becomes afraid of everyone else and the work culture begins to reflect the personality of the leader. Team soon became resemble a pack of frightened dogs.
  16. Maintain safe distance from your boss and his patsies all the time... Show formal, cold respect. Even if your boss definitely does not deserve your loyalty and assault your self-worth, by the fact that you are employed in the organization he or she is still entitled to your formal respect in conversations.
    1. Remember to keep your business relationships strictly about business. Do not try to get too close.
    2. Keep your feelings of resentment and anger to family and friends outside the work environment. Your interests will be easier to protect if you haven't left yourself wide open to others. Never try to communicate the problems about your boss with colleagues who often contact with her/him unless you definitly want that s/he knows about your feeling without the necessity of speaking directly.
    3. Never lose you guard and get into "please tell me the truth trap". Try your utmost to conceal your real feeling and your real level of anger at this jerk both to him and his patsies; maintain the illusion of productive working relationship while trying to protect the remnants of freedom that remains. Do not trust abrupt changes (sometimes demonstrated during the same meeting) when previously hostile boss (playing bad cop) in a moment turns into good cop and try to demonstrate friendliness before you or even the whole group. manager are usually an excellent actors, real chameleons and can wear many masks. The guys who recommend "assertive communication" with phychopatic manager are on crack.
  17. Avoid stepping on manager insecurity. Incompetent manager who are driven by fear and instantly counterattack any attempt to challenge their positive image:
    1. Avoid directly questioning their absurd orders or opinions. Try politely deflect them if they are really stupid citing some kind of external insurmountable difficulties or possible adverse reaction of other groups.
    2. Avoid direct attacks on manager competence for example by openly challenging his/her technical opinions. This is tantamount to suicide, especially if you like the firm as a whole. They can and will make your life a living hell. Save you energy and mental health by using such assignments as an opportunity to work on areas relevant to some certifications. After all if the direction of really absurd your level of efforts does not matter: failure is guaranteed.
  18. Learn "CorporateSpeak" and masquerade complains and demands under the fog of career development with heavy doze of Corporate bullshit. CorporateSpeak" -- a sort of industrial pig-Latin. Full of acronyms, it has become the means of choice to lessen the level of hostility inherent in modern workplace by mislabeling the common terms. Learn to translate all complains in corporate speak ("career development" language to be more precise). Consider this your new programming language that requires time and effort to master but quickly provide payoff. Always try to communicate your dissatisfaction with status quo in purely "carrier development" terms and in a positive and respectful way. Refusing to use while working for manager is a professional suicide.
  19. Give honest feedback about the progress of the project and other work related situations but sugarcoat and camouflage in "positive" buzzwords your message. For example you should always use "considerable improvement" instead of "improvement" ;-) Honesty is the best policy but temper your honesty with diplomacy.

Train your ability not to reveal extra, unnecessary or confidential information

Another very important aspect  is the ability not to say a wrong things and, especially, not to reveal unnecessary or confidential information. This is a very difficult ability that very few people possess naturally.  It does not help that you can express you feeling in in an inoffensive manner if you beetray you position but revealing too much information to the opponent.  See How not to say the wrong thing for a potentially useful checklist.

There is little more damaging then accidentally revealing the information you did not intend to reveal. This understanding is implicitly reflected in the proverb that fool is more dangerous then the enemy. 

The key in preventing such incidents is self-control. Recommendations that were developed for court depositions also can be useful. Here is a relevant quote from How to Excel During Depositions - Techniques for Expert Witnesses That Work By Steven Babitsky, Esq. and James J. Mangraviti, Jr., Esq. (1999): 

6.3 Advice on Answering Questions at Depositions

Avoid Absolute Words

You are well advised to avoid, where possible, absolute words such as "always" and "never." Absolute words are frequently an invitation to, and fertile grounds for, cross-examination by counsel. Counsel will attempt to damage your credibility by first getting you to make an absolute statement. She will then use counterexamples in an effort to show the falsity of your statement.

Example 6.29

Q: You testified previously that you have read everything written on warning labels, isnít that correct?

A: Yes, but that was some time ago.

Lesson: The expertís response here was a good recovery.

Example 6.30

Q: Doctor, itís your testimony that acute stress cannot cause heart attacks under any circumstances, is that correct?

A: It is.

Q: So, Doctor, if I were to reach into my trial bag here (reaches into bag) and pull out a loaded .44 Magnum and point it at your head, and you then had an immediate heart attack, it would be your testimony that the heart attack was not related to stress?

Lesson: The use of absolute words ("any" circumstances) opened the expert up to this sort of cross-examination.

Donít Elaborate or Volunteer

Volunteering information can be one of the biggest mistakes an expert makes at deposition. Generally, an expert should answer only the questions she is asked and not volunteer information. The volunteering of information will almost always result in new lines of cross-examination. It may also disclose information to which counsel otherwise never would have become privy.

Example 6.31

Q: What objective findings of malingering did you make?

A: Lack of atrophy, good muscle tone, oil and grease on his fingernails. There were plenty of subjective findings as well.

Q: Letís get into your so-called subjective findings.

Q: Would you agree with me causation is a medical opinion?

A: Partially.

Q: Okay. (Note: No question put to witness, but he answers nonetheless.)

A: If there are idiopathic issues, then itís a medical opinion. If there are not any glaring idiopathic and if a person works in a job that exposes them to risk factors, then I can certainly analyze the job and determine what factors were present and if the person was exposed to those risk factors and barring any other, you know, medical opinion or medical opinion that says, well, there is an idiopathic issue here also, then we assume that the work caused it.

Q: Can you define for me idiopathic carpal tunnel syndrome?

A: Idiopathic causes would be, for example-can be related to diabetes, pregnancy, heart, circulation, even specific anthropomorphics like the size of a personís tunnel, carpal tunnel.

Q: The word idiopathic itself, what does that mean?

A: Well, weíll have to look up the definition.

Q: Youíll defer to the dictionary for that.

A: Yes.

Lesson: The witnessesí volunteering of information in both examples opened up new lines of questioning. They should have stopped their answers after their first sentences.

Be Careful When Using Hedge Words

You need to be careful when using hedge words when expressing your opinion. Such words include "I guess," "I believe," "it seems," "itís possible," and "I would say." The only reason that you are testifying is to give an opinion.

Hedge words and phrases can quickly undermine your opinion and are an invitation for additional cross-examination.

Worse, counsel may be able to make a motion to have your entire testimony stricken because expert guessing is not allowed under the rules of evidence.

Example 6.32

Q: Thatís your "guess," sir?

A: Well, what I meant to say, that it was my opinion thatÖ.

Lesson: The expert needed to avoid the hedge words. If he had an opinion he believed in, he should have stated it without employing the hedge words.


In answering questions honestly, you may have to make an occasional concession. If you make the concession graciously and move on, you will exude confidence, integrity, and flexibility. If, on the other hand, you doggedly refuse to give an inch, you may come off as rigid and partisan.

The most common error the beginning expert makes in a deposition is the failure to concede an obvious and irrefutable point out of misguided loyalty to his or her side of the caseÖ. Quibbling over the possible exceptions or equivocating in some way helps no one.

Example 6.33

Q: Now, would you agree just because the Glasgow Coma Scale was 15, there were no focal neurological deficits, that one still cannot rule out whether or not Mr. Framo had suffered a concussion or mild brain injury?

A: Thatís correct. He could have.

Lesson: When an expert makes a concession promptly without the necessity of a long series of leading questions, the concessionís effect on the jury or fact finder is reduced.

Example 6.34

Q: If somebody does a flexion and extension movement making half a million pieces a year, Doctor, would that be significant enough to cause someone to get carpal tunnel syndrome from their job?

A: Again, I would have to look at the specific flexion-extension activity, but certainly that degree of flexion-extension activity at the wrist, one would have to consider that as a, you know, a cause or a contributing factor.

Counsel: Thank you. Thatís all I have.

Lesson: When the expert fights the concession every inch of the way and concedes only when left no reasonable alternative explanation, the concession is emphasized. Counsel frequently use such a concession to conclude the deposition with a flourish.

"I Donít Know"

If you are asked a question that you do not know the answer to, your answer should be, "I donít know." There is absolutely nothing wrong with this response if you genuinely do not know the answer to the question. There are probably thousands of questions that can be asked of experts in any discipline to which they have no answer. The more the expert hesitates or tries to avoid saying, "I donít know," the more emphasis is given to this "lack of knowledge" by the jury or fact finder. No amount of hesitation will bring the answer to you if you do not know it.

Example 6.35

Q: What is the coefficient for friction for steel on cement?

A: I donít know.

Lesson: The forthright admission of lack of knowledge was in the expertís best interest. Had the expert tried to talk around this, it would have only emphasized her lack of knowledge.

Example 6.36

Q: If those wrist rests were unavailable prior to 1991, would you agree she had a higher probability then of being in a neutral position?

A: I donít know. Thatís an interesting question. I donít know. I mean I guess thatís my answer, I donít know. But I think the wrist rests certainly emphasizes, even though you have the Ridyardís ergonomic assessment of 1994, if Miss Sanford and/or her supervisor were trained, that would not have been a product of choice.

Lesson: If you allow yourself to get flustered, your lack of knowledge will be emphasized to the jury. The expert in this example would have been better served by replying, "I donít know" and then sitting quietly and waiting for the next question.

"I Donít Recall"

When asked about a fact, situation, or occurrence that you honestly do not remember, the best answer is, "I do not remember" or "I donít recall." This is only an appropriate answer when you honestly have no recollection. Perjury ramifications aside, an endless string of "I donít recalls" (or even one that may seem hard to believe) may tend to damage your credibility. If your response is that you do not recall, counsel may then attempt to refresh your memory. This is permissible under the rules of evidence.

Example 6.37

Q: Doctor, do you have any memory, independent of the medical records, of any of the events that occurred on August 5 of 1990, regarding the treatment of Ms. Lynn?

A: I would say no. Canít really remember any real specifics on that particular day. I remember snatches of her. Over her two-year course, I recall her and various things over a two-year span, but that particular day I canít recall any real specifics.

Q: Have you reviewed the medical record of August 5, 1990, from the emergency room, the Baystate Medical Center?

A: Yes, I have.

Q: Does that medical record refresh your memory in any way as to where you were approximately the time that she was admitted to the hospital about 4 a.m. on that day?

A: She came in at 4 a.m. that morning. The reading doesnít refresh my memory.

Q: Does the record indicate approximately when you first appeared on August 5 at Baystate Medical Center?

A: Just looking at it very quickly now, looked at this in detail earlier, I donít see anything in the record in and of itself that refreshes my memory on when I physically was present, near Ms. Lynn or in her care. I donít see anything that would indicate an exact time.

Lesson: As noted above, if the document does not refresh your memory or recollection, you are free to so testify. In this case, counsel was forced to drop this line of inquiry and move on.

Beware of Open-ended Questions

You should be cautious when dealing with open-ended questions. These questions invite long, rambling answers. Counsel may be trying to get you to volunteer information not called for by the question. If you do volunteer information, it is likely that this information will be used against you during cross-examination. You should therefore answer open-ended questions as concisely as possible, being careful not to provide information that was not asked for.

Example 6.38

Q: What do you consider to be the unsafe uses of an ATV?

A: OhÖ. I can give you some highlights. There are many, many unsafe uses, but classic unsafe use is as a mobile transport form to transport you and a loaded firearm. This is not a motorized attack vehicle. It is not a multi-passenger transport vehicle, although it has to be conceded that because of its stability and because of its wide platform, you can safely transport a passenger on it. You just have to be more careful. But that is not a correct use of the vehicle, so depending-itís like everything else. You could probably even transport a loaded firearm safely if you took enough precautions, so when I say unsafe use, itís not a recommended use, not that you canít pull off that maneuver safely with enough care.

Certainly you could easily find loads and pulling tasks like stumps that just by their nature the vehicle was not designed to do, and people will try and use the dynamics of the vehicle to run up against the rope and jerk on something really hard and say-but thatís not a good idea.

It is not for transport on paved roadways. I mean, you can drive it. It will run. The traffic cops in Hawaii write all their parking tickets on three-wheeled ATVs with tires scrubbed smooth, and you can do that safely, but thatís just not a recommended use. I mean, you are-you areÖ.

I think itís fair to say unless you know what youíre doing, it is not a competitive speed machine. I mean, there areÖpeople race it and, andÖmost people donít have any business racing cars. It doesnít mean they donít do it, but that is potentially a hazardous use.

They are not vehiclesÖfor-I donít know how to characterize thisÖIím going to say not very well thought out horseplay. Thatís an inelegant statement, but you see uses of these vehicles for games like chicken andÖsort of itís horses substitutes for games. I mean, they are not a horse. I mean I donít mean that pejoratively. Horses, because they have their own will, they have their own unique set of problems, but an ATV is not a horse, and attempting to use it like one can be a misuse of it.

And finally, I guess, an ATV is not a toy. Anything with a multiple horsepower engine is not a toy in the sense that classic things people think of as a toy is something you can drop-drop in the crib or playpen, and, you know, it ainít one of those. Itís a vehicle that has the capability of putting energy at the command of anybodyÖtall enough to reach the handle bars and the accelerator and the gear shift or long enough legs to reach the gear shift, and the people who ergonomically fit that envelope do not overlap totally with the people whose judgment is appropriate for operating one of these, and so use of it as a toy, as a toy substitute, is not appropriate.

Now, obviously, every one of those categories has bits of infinite detail, numerous scenarios.

Lesson: Note the numerous areas of inquiry opened up by this long, rambling answer to a single open-ended question. Experts are better served by brief, succinct replies to open-ended questions. If counsel has follow-up questions, let her ask them. Donít do the lawyerís job for her.

Avoid Slang

Avoid slang expressions when replying to questions. When they are transcribed and read back to a jury, these expressions diminish the value of your reply and can make you sound almost illiterate. Most slang expressions slip from experts unintentionally. To avoid making such a slip, you will need to maintain your concentration and focus.

Example 6.39

Q: Now, sir, you were asked on direct examination about the history that you took from Ronald Evans, right?

A: Uh-huh.

Q: And the history is the story that he tells you, correct?

A: Uh-huh.

Q: Is that a yes?

A: Yes, it is.

Q: And you told us that Mr. Evans told you that he hurt himself while lifting some boxes at work?

Q: Uh-huh, I mean, yes.

Q: Are you familiar with an organization called M.O.R. Incorporated, sir?

A: Nope.

Lesson: The expertís use of slang cheapens his testimony and diminishes his credibility.

Counselís "Bumble and Fumble" Gambit

Do not help counsel when he is apparently bumbling or fumbling with some type of technical question. Experts are frequently tricked into volunteering key information by such real or feigned ignorance. Let counsel bumble or fumble all they want. Remember, you are there to answer questions, not to assist counsel in framing them correctly.

Yes or No Responses

If counsel asks for a yes or no response and you can answer the question with a yes or a no, endeavor to do so. If counsel attempts to insist on a yes or no answer to questions that cannot be answered in that fashion, you can state, "I cannot answer that question with a yes or no reply." It will then be up to counsel to either let you explain your answer or rephrase his question.

What to Do When You Make a Mistake

Expert witnesses are not expected to be perfect. During a long and arduous deposition, you may misspeak or make a mistake or error. If you do make a mistake, you should correct the error on the record as soon as you recognize your error. "I want to correct a statement I made a few minutes ago. I stated that the 1991 EMG was related to the surgery. That is incorrect." Counsel may quickly challenge you on your mistake before you have an opportunity to correct it. In that case, admit your error graciously. What you want to avoid after making a mistake is making the matter even worse by your inability or unwillingness to admit the mistake. This could make you look biased. If you discover your mistake after the deposition concludes, notify counsel and correct the deposition transcript when it comes for your signature.

Example 6.40

Q: You only treated her for a 1981 accident, correct?

A: You know, itís interesting, Iím looking at what we wrote down here and it says "1981-1984 motor vehicle accident, recovered." I may have misinterpreted what this note was. The accident was in Ď81, but we saw her in Ď84; and I apologize if I misled you.

Lesson: The expert has done a good job handling his mistake. He comes off as human, and above all, honest.

Example 6.41

Q: Your comment was that the normal EMG in 1991 related to the surgery. Now, that doesnít make sense, does it?

A: Did she have surgery in the interim?

Q: No, she did not.

A: Youíre correct, it doesnít make sense. Well, it doesnít necessarily not make sense, either, because after surgery for a carpal tunnel syndrome, the EMG changes can wax and wane. You can have EMG positive one month and a year later negative. It may be a direct result of the surgery. My statement may still hold up, but I made that statement in error.

Lesson: The expert here may come off as inflexible, closed-minded, or biased. Either way, he lessens his credibility by trying to explain away his misstatement.

"I Donít Know, ButÖ"

As an expert witness, you are under oath to tell the truth. You should not speculate, but should testify with a reasonable degree of certainty. At deposition, many experts do not practice this principle and, in fact, speculate freely. One of the most common forms of speculation by experts at deposition is the "I do not know, butÖ" reply. It is usually a mistake to use this response. First of all, if you donít know, then any information you provide after the "but" is mere speculation. Secondly, you may volunteer damaging information after the "but."

Example 6.42

Q: Do you know whether or not GM employed any other method to determine longitudinal velocity of test dummies?

A: I donít know if we compute longitudinal velocity based on accelerometers, but I suppose you could.

Lesson: The simple, direct, and best response is, "I donít know." The throwaway statements that come after the "but" or "I donít know" reply help counsel by providing him or her with additional information. This type of reply frequently results in new lines of inquiry and detailed questioning by counsel.

Example 6.43

Q: Do you know, in this crash test, what causes the voltage drop and rise?

A: I donít know but thatís typically an indication that the switch is opening and closing.

Q: When you say opening and closing, sir, would you explain what you mean in this context?

Lesson: By providing a "but," the witness has opened a new line of questioning. This was probably avoidable simply by answering the question, "I donít know" or "No."

Example 6.44

Q: Why does crash test 4665 have such charts and the remaining frontal barrier tests do not?

A: Well, I donít really know, but if you would like me to review the other tests to determine whether or not those tests have such-I can certainly do that, but I guess this one had switches, and they must have been requested.

Lesson: This witness has answered, "I donít know" and then made an offer to assist counsel. The simple, most accurate, and best reply is, "I donít know." Any comments made as an afterthought are unwise, unprofessional, and inconsistent with being successful as an expert at deposition.


Sophisticated counsel may attempt to trap the expert witness by the use of the word hope. If you inadvertently agree with a characterization, you may allow the lawyer to successfully call into question the reliability of your opinion. When you are confronted with an "And you are hopingÖ" question, it may be best to actively refute that characterization. Remember that when you are passive and agree to an attorneyís characterization or mischaracterization, you are in effect letting the attorney put words in your mouth.

Example 6.45

Q: Doctor, one more thing. Your opinion here today that Mr. Stanek has asked you about, in part, is based on the history that you get from the patient, isnít that correct, and your training, obviously?

A: Yes, sure.

Q: And youíre hoping, of course, as most doctors, that the patients are accurate when they give you a history and tell you whatís wrong with them. Is that a fair statement?

A: Yes.

Lesson: Counsel has raised questions in the minds of the jury or fact finder regarding the reliability of the history (i.e., assumptions upon which the expertís opinion was based). "Hoping" may be made to seem akin to "guessing." A better answer might have been, "I donít Ďhopeí that I was provided an accurate history, I assume so unless I have reason to suspect otherwise."

Refusal to Speculate

You should not permit yourself to be tricked, cajoled, or forced into speculating when answering questions under oath at deposition. There is nothing wrong with the response, "Iím sorry, but Iím not going to speculate on that."

Example 6.46

Q: So what youíre saying here is that this coated cable itself is what deflected?

A: That is correct.

Q: And is it also correct to say that when you ran that test that a portion of that coated cable was left outside of the interlocking portion of the lacings?

A: It would be correct to say that that assembly as purchased was assembled based on our understanding and also whatever instructions that came with it so there was an equal portion sticking out of either end. The exact length of the cable beyond the lacing what we refer to as the hinge device I canít give you a dimension on that. I donít really recall.

Q: Was there some portion of it?

A: My recollection that the washer was crimped on the metal cap and to what extent the cable stuck out I couldnít theorize at this point.

Q: Can you say whether it did or whether it didnít to any extent?

A: I canít with any accuracy.

Q: I am not asking for any millimeters.

A: I understand. I canít speculate that it did or did not at this point.

Lesson: The expert did an excellent job of not allowing himself to be pushed into speculating.


Beware of the use of the word possible. Testifying that something is merely "possible" is most likely legally insufficient. If your opinion is only a mere possibility, the judge will most likely not allow it to be presented to the jury as evidence.

Example 6.47

Q: Is it your testimony that Ms. Cainís carpal tunnel syndrome is causally related to her employment as a stitcher at Johnson Company, Doctor?

A: Itís possible.

Q: If I were to say to you, today, that at 4:00 this afternoon, on January the 12th, 1994, here in Buffaloe, New York, itís going to be sunny, 90 outside and weíre all going to go swimming, thatís a possibility, isnít it?

A: Thatís a possibility.

Q: Thatís not a probability?

A: Thatís not a probability.

Q: So, a probability is something more likely than not; is that correct?

A: Thatís correct.

Q: So, when you say something is probable, youíre saying that something is more likely than not, am I correct in understanding this?

A: If itís probable, itís more likely than not.

Q: And possible means-well, anything is possible?

Counsel: Object, as leading.

Q: Well, how would you define possible, Doctor?

A: Possible, I would say something is possible, if thereís some likelihood it may happen, even though itís remote. Or one of many likelihoods that, something will happen.

Q: So, weíre talking about, essentially something that one can, the difference is, probable is whether you can stake a bet on it. Possible, you might not stake a bet on it?

A: Yeah. In laymanís language, thatís good.

Lesson: When an expert witness at deposition uses the terms possible or possibly, he or she can reasonably expect the above line of questioning by counsel. If the lawyer can show that your opinion is only based on a mere possibility, he may succeed in excluding your opinion from being admitted into evidence at trial.

"I Guess"

As an expert, you are testifying under oath. Your testimony will help resolve the rights and liabilities of parties who are involved in a legal dispute. Accordingly, there is no place for you to guess. Experts are well advised to leave the guessing to financial advisers, political pundits, and meteorologists.

Example 6.48

Q: What would the purpose be of increasing spool diameter, sir?

A: Well, Iím not sure why they did it in that case. I guess there could be as many reasons as there are diameters of spools.

Q: Mr. Green, what caused the damage to the throttle valve on the accident ATV?

A: I donít really know for sure, but my best guess was that it was misassembled by the distributor.

Q: Essentially the seat is part of the restraint system, is that correct, sir?

A: Well, I guess the restraint system consists of the belts and their attachment points within the vehicle. That leaves out the seat.

Q: In this case you did work for a company called Comp Management, Inc., correct?

A: Yes.

Q: And youíve done other work for them?

A: I guess so.

Q: Well, yes or no?

A: I donít know.

Lesson: Your "guesses" are not admissible in evidence. Guessing can only hurt your credibility. It should be avoided.

"I Donít Understand the Question"

You need not answer questions that you do not understand. If the question propounded to you is confusing, the preferred answer is, "I donít understand the question." Exercise caution in giving "I donít understand" replies to avoid answering questions improperly. For example, if you are one of the leading computer experts in the world and have testified that you didnít understand a question about a browser, it is likely that your credibility will be impaired. You must answer truthfully and are permitted to answer, "I donít understand" only when that is the actual case.

Example 6.49

Q: Do you know whether or not GM vehicles manufactured prior to 1995 ever incorporated a retractor assembly with a limitation on the amount of slack that could be produced into the shoulder harness webbing?

A: I donít understand.

Q: Let me try and rephrase the question.

Lesson: When the expert legitimately answers, "I donít know," counsel is forced to rephrase the question or move on. By only answering questions that you understand, you will help ensure that the testimony you give is accurate and not misleading.

Compound Questions

Frequently, attorneys attempt to confuse the expert at deposition by asking compound questions; that is, two questions combined. Sometimes the question is asked in a stream of consciousness manner that is difficult to comprehend, let alone answer accurately. When faced with such questions, appropriate responses include: "Counsel, you have asked several questions. Can you simplify the question so I can answer it accurately?" and, "Counsel, Iím sorry, I donít understand the question. Could you please rephrase it?"

Example 6.50

Q: Well, I guess what Iím having trouble with is you have concluded that heís malingering, thereís nothing wrong with him. Yet on a test, for instance, that tests the ability of a person to be conceptual, he gives an answer which in and of itself you didnít think showed malingering. Iím trying to understand how he has all these difficulties and how you come to the conclusion that the answers that he gave that were incorrect show malingering.

A: Counsel, you have asked several questions. Can you simplify the question so I can answer it accurately?

Lesson: The expert provided a good response to counselís question.

Example 6.51

Q: In those cases where there was one for the plaintiff or the treating doctor and the second for a defense neuropsychologist, the fact that the test results-you determined the test results were invalid because thereís no-not that consistency, does that invalidate the first testing? Can you determine-if you see two inconsistent tests, does that mean both are invalid or the first may be valid and the second invalid?

A: Thatís a complicated question to which I donít have a definitive answer. I can say that on many of the tests the average scores for the first testing and the second testing were not significantly different; in other words, they did about equally as well. Although, I have to make clear that the scores on the second testing, while not significantly different statistically, did tend to be a little lower than the scores on the first testing. And looks like-it would look like that under pressure of litigation with the second testing coming up, perhaps when trial was coming close or something of that sort, that these people were just not able to put forth quite as good a performance as they did on the first testing. But at the same time the scores were generally-they were not strikingly different. The inconsistency, the intraindividual inconsistency were the striking elements of differences between the two testings.

Lesson: A better answer might have been, "I donít know." As you might expect, the answer given opened up several new areas of inquiry.

"I Assume"

You should not make unfounded or unsupported assumptions in an attempt to answer a question. If you canít answer or donít know the answer, say so. Expert witnesses need not and should not make unsupported or unsubstantiated assumptions in an attempt to answer questions at deposition.

Example 6.52

Q: Does the computer program have the capability of printing out a master index of all of the crash tests?

A: I donít know, but I would assume that some computer person set this system up and can go in and generate a list of all of the data in thereÖ.

Lesson: Assuming in a case like this is akin to guessing and should be avoided. A better answer might have been, "I donít know." 

Steve Babitsky is the President of SEAK, Inc. and is the co-author of How To Excel During Depositions:  Techniques For Experts That Work.  For further information, visit or call (508) 548-7023.  Also visit SEAK's Expert Witness Directory.


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