We all know poseurs. Poseur is a French word derived from pose and poser and as we all know, it is used to describe someone who adopts a fake or insincere way of presenting himself/herself to others. There are all kinds of poseurs, including many politicians and celebrities, who affect their public image in ways they believe will impress others. In my work as a social psychologist, I encounter many people who are poseurs, including some of my clients and some of my colleagues. It usually doesn’t take me long to evaluate these people and reach the realization that their public persona is merely an act designed to fool others and perhaps, themselves. By way of illustration, I worked, long ago, on a case with an attorney who was referred to by other attorneys as “The Rat.” (I do not intend this post as, in any way, disparaging of rats. Quite the opposite, I appreciate the valuable contributions laboratory rats have made to the field of psychology.) “The Rat” was, when in the courtroom, friendly and sweet natured to the judge and jury; however, when behind closed doors, he was rude, demeaning, and mean spirited to his colleagues, his associates, his staff, and people like me, whom he expected to help him despite his ill temper. The Rat was such an extreme poseur that he was able to change his facial expressions instantaneously, from a scowling and threatening expression when speaking to me, to a bright smile when in the presence of the jury. In contrast to poseurs, I am the type of person who can be described as “what you see is what you get.” I am as genuinely nice, kind, and friendly to strangers and friends; to lower level staff and big shot attorneys; and to people I expect never to see again and family. Think about poseurs, posers, and others who adopt a fake personality as a means of achieving their goals; are they happy with who they really are?
I’m sure that Melissa and I are compatible because we share this genuine personality trait. I’ve never “gotten” or understood the poseurs – whether high school jocks or cheerleaders, or in any other context, including our current work. I know that in our current work, trial consulting, our clients have to put on a “show” for the jury – there is, inherently, an “act.” They also have to have strong egos – see our post about lawyer egos – because of the performance they have to deliver. And, in trial, that delivery can take days, weeks, and months. For those who are posing, it presents an interesting question – how do they maintain the dichotomy of their real selves – the ones which are know to their staff outside of the courtroom and the face they present inside the courtroom? The majority of our clients are themselves inside and outside the courtroom. It is certainly a minority who are two faced poseurs. Some of the posing and posturing comes from trying to impress their clients (usually insurance or corporate clients). We have seen this spectacle when the posturing starts early in the day to suggest that the mock jury exercise is unnecessary because the “I’m so smart” lawyer declares he knows the outcome already. Why they set themselves up that way, I’ll never know. Inevitably those who engage in this practice have the furthest to fall when their forecasts do not come true. I don’t understand why they stick their necks out, but it seems to come with the posing. Another thing that I don’t “get” is how, when this happens, they are able to reconcile the errors of their judgment, the public pronouncements they made, and the outcome. It reminds me of something I first heard from my 7th grade science teacher who said “better to be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” That is a safer position – the “let’s wait and see” strategy. In our world, there are occasionally consequences of being such a poseur; sometimes, the purpose of the research includes an evaluation of the attorney’s performance by his or her clients because the client has some level of discomfort or concern about the attorney. In a few instances, one of the results of our research has been a change in trial counsel – and it has been a poseur or two who have had that rug pulled out from under them. I wonder if any lessons were learned, but I tend to doubt it.