The stealing thunder tactic suggests an effective way to neutralize weaknesses in your position. In essence, if you’ve got any weaknesses, it is best to bring them up yourself (i.e. steal the thunder) than to let your adversary do it. If you disclose your weaknesses first, you will look more credible and this in turn will boost your persuasiveness.
The stealing thunder tactic is well-known to some political strategists. Yet, this tactic is not only battled-tested in political arenas and courtrooms, but also backed up by some solid research. One of the best known studies tested this technique in two experiments simulating criminal and civil trials.
Stealing Thunder Tactic in Criminal Trial
The first experiment reenacted fictitious criminal trial, where a defendant was charged with the assault and battery – “beating another man after a verbal altercation”. The researchers divided the participants into three groups.
- The first group was no thunder group.
- The second group was the thunder group: the “jury” heard the same story as no thunder group but this time the prosecutor also told that the defendant had been previously convicted of the same crime twice.
- In the third group – the stolen thunder – the defense lawyer revealed that his client had prior convictions; he also told that this fact was unimportant because it did not prove his client’s guilt.
The results not only showed that the stealing thunder tactic increased credibility of the defense attorney and the defendant, but also significantly decreased guilt ratings:
- No thunder: M = 5.04
- Thunder: M = 6.61
- Stolen thunder: M = 5.83
Stealing Thunder Tactic in Civil Trial
The stealing thunder swayed even more in the civil trial. The plaintiff’s weakness here was an expert witness – a doctor whose testimony in another case conflicted with his position in this case. In a thunder group, the defense attorney brought up this fact; in a stolen thunder group, it was the plaintiff’s attorney who did that.
Percent of jurors finding for plaintiff:
- No thunder: 58
- Thunder: 43
- Stealing thunder: 65
Here stealing thunder tactic got better results even than no thunder condition. So it seems that sometimes it might be worth exposing a weakness even if you don’t have one.
Once again, this tactic is not limited to courtrooms or political arenas. As the researchers pointed out,
“hypothetically, the process may work in virtually any situation where negative information may turn up, from relationships to job interviews to politics”