Voir Dire: Speak the Truth

A few weeks ago, I received a dreaded piece of mail. No, it wasn’t from the IRS. It was from the Jackson County Courthouse, summoning me for jury duty. Having escaped this civic responsibility thus far in life, I thought perhaps I was on some secret “leave me alone” list. Turns out, that’s not the case. My summons arrived, and I answered the call.

Of the hundreds of jurors who showed up, three quarters were dismissed within a few hours. I, however, was one of the “lucky” souls assigned to a criminal case that was actually going to trial. After languishing in the jury room for 6+ hours, waiting for something…anything…to happen, my group of 70 was called into the courtroom for the selection of 12 jurors.

If you’ve ever been through jury duty and made it into the selection phase, you’re familiar with a legal process called voir dire, which means, “speak the truth.” During voir dire (in criminal trials), jurors are seated in the courtroom with the judge, bailiff, court reporter, prosecution, defense counsel and the accused. The prosecution and defense ask questions—LOTS of questions—to unearth jurors’ beliefs, attitudes and potential biases. Depending on the nature of the case, these questions can get very personal, and the vibe in the courtroom is most certainly intense.

It’s important to note that jurors are sworn in to speak truthfully during this process. Given that the defendant is sitting right there in the courtroom, watching you and listening to your opinions as they pertain to his or her case, speaking the truth can be incredibly uncomfortable.

Now, permit me to draw a parallel to the GRC consulting world. We certainly don’t deal with issues of life or death (or life imprisonment), but we do have our share of intense moments when we’re called upon to “speak the truth” with our clients. We are often peppered with questions about our clients’ people, processes and culture. As consultants, it’s our duty to answer plainly and honestly, even if the truth is unflattering.

We also ask clients our own questions:

  • “Are we meeting your expectations?”
  • “Do you have any concerns about how the project is going?”
  • “Are you pleased with the outcome?”
  • “What can we do better on our next project?”

The answers to these questions are not always glowingly positive, despite or best efforts. We are humans. We make mistakes, and our clients are quick to point them out (as they should).

It would be easier if we didn’t ask these questions. Life would be more pleasant if we didn’t have to tell the truth—the hard truth—when we see issues. But how does that get us to our goal? How does remaining silent lead to a better outcome? The answer: It doesn’t.

In jury selection, the prosecution and defense ask tough questions not because they want to embarrass people. They simply want to find 12 jurors best suited for the case. And so it goes in GRC consulting. We must ask difficult questions of our clients and ourselves. We must speak the truth in our answers. And we must be willing to accept the truth (even the hard truth) from our colleagues. That’s how we bring value to our engagements and continue to improve ourselves.

The next time you’re tempted to sit on your hands, spare someone’s feelings and keep valuable insights to yourself, remember the words voir dire. “Speak the truth.”

— Sarah Nord

Image Source: https://equaljusticesociety.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/jurybox.jpg