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The Awfulness of Absolutes


Absolutes are always bad. Well, maybe that is not true. But the usage of absolutes can be detrimental to legal defenses or even personal disagreements with others. Many people seek to establish totality and conviction with the employment of words that are, in fact, limiting and restrictive.

I recently did some research on examples of how using absolutist language can backfire, especially in professional settings. Turns out, in situations like giving a deposition, using overly-decisive vocabulary can be damaging to a person’s case.

The Problem of Unconditional Language

Unfortunately, depositions can sometimes feature questions over confusing subjects or information that requires attention to the details of important matters. It is obviously important to be honest during depositions: incorrect answers can be used as evidence by the deposing attorney or other parties in the litigation as evidence of unreliability.

Greg Hach of Hach & Rose, LLP uses the example of the statement, “‘I can never exercise again’” as language to avoid. If a person were to say that in a personal injury case, but their financial records show a monthly subscription to a gym or yoga studio, a potential discrepancy can be raised by other attorneys.

Additionally, if an answer is confined or stated categorically, it may lead the deposing lawyer to attempt to hold a person’s ‘feet to the fire’ and test the ability of a person to answer the same question consistently, multiple times.

Everyone has the right to see records about which a person is being asked. However, it is still recommended that certain principles are kept in mind as depositions proceed, in order to prevent mistakes or inaccuracies.

How to Avoid Restrictive Words

Questions should only be answered if the information is confidently known. Saying, “I do not know,” is not a crime or wrong if the answer is genuinely not known. There may be attempts during depositions for lawyers to ask questions to which they are confident the answer is unknown by the deponent, in order to bait the deponent in offering possibilities or guessing.

Patience and courtesy go a long way. Despite the potential intensity of questions, at the end of the day, every person in the deposition room is a person with their own life and story. Keeping composure or kindness may be difficult when being probed about sensitive subjects in litigation surrounding personal issues like child custody, but doing so is incredibly important. Not only will the lawyers be appreciative, but so too will the deposition go by quicker and easier. Additionally, being kind and put-together will prevent stress, decreasing the chance of absolutist language.

Take breaks! As Greg Hach of Hach & Rose, LLP writes, depositions are “not an endurance test; if you require a break (or five breaks for that matter) turn to your attorney and request one.” Asking for brief periods of inactivity to interrupt the stream of important questions will make the process smoother and prevent burn-out that can lead to inaccurate answers or vocabulary that can be used in an attempt to disqualify your testimony.