I had the opportunity to work with a young male lawyer who could easily work as a SWAT team negotiator. His special gift was to avoid male posturing at each sent challenge.
His client interrupted and yelled throughout the interview. He was very angry and belligerent. He refused to sign paperwork and refused to have his next hearing set. He was clearly used to bullying people into submission or escalating them into a fight, and was completely disarmed by the third unknown path taken by his new attorney – the path of non-resistance and neutrality.
When the defendant raised his voice, the lawyer kept his quiet tone. When the defendant said he was angry at the lawyer, the lawyer responded by saying in a soothing tone, “I am not angry with you”. When the defendant said you cannot tell me what to do, the lawyer agreed.
“I cannot tell you what to do – absolutely not. The decision on whether to sign a paper to surrender your weapons, and whether go to trial, is completely up to you. My only job is to make sure that you understand the consequences, risks and benefits of each decision YOU make.”
When the defendant appeared not to listen or understand, the attorney very quietly and firmly reassured him,”I promise I will not decide anything for you. I only ask you to give me the chance to give you the information you need so YOU can decide. My job is to inform you. Yours is to make decisions. I will respect your decisions.”
Throughout, the attorney was cool, collected, respectful and neutral. He did not take up any challenge or feel the need to defend himself in any way. He did not return any insult or even interrupt back. He never felt the need to “put the defendant in his place”. He just calmly performed his job, taking absolutely nothing personally.
At the end of the interview, as we walked away, the defendant was still standing in fighting cock position, back arched, chest forward, strutting, loose on his feet, ready to bob and weave. Then he leaned forward and pressed his head against the bars and yelled out as we left, “HEY!”
The attorney and I both turned around at the same instant, and saw the defendant, his head pressed to the bars and a smile on his face, yelling out at the top of his lungs, “Thanks!”
It was high praise and an acknowledgment. I would like to think that he was not only saying “I recognize the man in you” which leads to so much posturing and so many fights, but “I recognize the fellow human in you,” and I will be therefore be able to trust you and cooperate with you.
And maybe even, I can respect you without a fight.
Okay, call me an idealist. Guilty as charged.