Dan Ariely, a psychology professor at Duke University, remembers the first time he was hired by attorneys to serve as an expert witness in a court case. A big law firm sought his help to explain its client’s behavior.
To prepare, Ariely asked the law firm for transcripts of prior cases in which academics had served as expert witnesses. Reviewing the transcripts, he was struck by how supposedly objective academics—esteemed researchers and professors—lambasted the views of the opposing side. They were dismissive of clashing arguments.
Ariely understood they were being paid well as expert witnesses. But he wondered, “To what extent does their compensation lead them to oversell their research findings and hype their opinions?”
As the law firm prepped him for his day in court, Ariely discovered his answer. The attorneys could not tell Ariely what to say, of course. But as he described research that applied to the case, he noticed that the lawyers hinted that less favorable findings were somehow flawed and more favorable findings represented superb research.
Furthermore, Ariely realized the attorneys would heap enthusiastic praise on him whenever he cited research that strengthened their case. They were not as effusive when he volunteered information they found less useful.
After a few weeks of such preparation, Ariely admits that he found himself sharing the legal team’s bias. He no longer saw himself as an objective academic analyzing research with an open mind; instead, he had adopted the views of the people paying him to support a certain conclusion.
The lesson? Praise people for sharing views that you endorse. This can help you build strategic alliances.
— Adapted from The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, Dan Ariely, Harper Perennial.
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