Keeping Your ‘Cool’

By now you probably know the story of Antoinette Tuff, a Georgia school employee possessing courage, common sense and wisdom along with the ability to keep her cool in a terrifying situation.  She talked down a heavily armed gunman who had gotten past the school’s security system and undoubtedly saved  many adult and children’s lives. For once, no one got hurt and tragedy was averted.

The school system,  which provided crisis training instead of armaments,  and Antoinette Tuff , who had highly developed qualities of understanding and respectful human interaction,  averted a tragedy.   The gunman was brought to a point of de-escalating his fury enough to think about what he was doing and its consequences, and to stop himself while he still could. Antoinette Tuff then gave him the confidence to stay with his decision, put down his arms, lie down peacefully and surrender. The only shouting heard on the recording is when the police announced their arrival.

We fully acknowledge the character and competence of the heroine and the extraordinary cool she displayed in such a terrifying situation. The techniques that she used are also present in the tool boxes of mediators and collaborative attorneys who have also been trained to strive for peaceful conflict resolution.

Ms. Tuff set the stage for the gunman to make the difficult decisions needing to be made. Those of us in the Alternate Dispute Resolution community help our clients get beyond their angers and fears, to overcome unrealistic expectations and to tap into their abilities to solve their problems and to make the decisions that have to be made to resolve their less dramatic, but no less complicated, situations. We help them to fully understand the issues and to identify their needs and those of the others within the scope of their dispute. We also do all this, in part, by helping to create and enforce a climate of mutual respect.

That same climate of respect that saved lives in Georgia enables parties in mediation or collaborative practice cases to find their paths through their fogs of negative emotions and tap into those “better parts” of themselves to move forward with intelligence. Where they are successful, and most cases begin mediation, there is the additional payoff of increased possibilities for future cooperation. That is why few previously mediated cases come into the courts for post-divorce litigation.

Lots of times folks who are in major conflicts automatically go into warrior-mode, seeking “big gun” representation and ready to do “scorched-earth” tactics. In warrior-mode, other aspects of human behavior are often not reachable and parties can be limited to exchanging poorly thought-out one-sided ultimatums or otherwise not be fully able to address the big picture. No case should begin with the assumption that this is the best or only way to handle their situation and it is always useful to explore whether a less aggressive mode would have a better probability of success.

When it comes to resolving a divorce or other significant conflict, such as problems between or among warring siblings over a parent’s estate, or a business dispute such as an employment problem or a partnership split, we all have choices as to how to proceed. Sometimes a litigant can be persuaded to side-step from a court case to give mediation or  a Collaborative resolution  a chance.

Antoinette Tuff should be an inspiration for us all.

Elaine Nissen, Esq.