Conflict management institute trained federal energy regulators

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Lipscomb University’s Institute for Conflict Management was called upon by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this year to provide conflict management training to its litigation and negotiation team.

The commission, which regulates interstate trade of energy nationwide, was interested in improving its team’s skills in interest-based negotiation. Conflict institute leaders Steve Joiner and Phyllis Hildreth headed to the commission’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., for three days to train the commission employees.

“The commission works with organizations nationwide to set their rates for energy purchases,” explained Joiner, managing director of the institute. For example, a power company in one state may sell power to another state, and the users in that state may disagree on what a fair rate would be. “It is very complicated, and very challenging,” Joiner said.

“There were times in the past where (the commission) functioned as arbitrators, but in the new world we live in, there are expectations that they emphasize meeting the needs of the clients. So today there is more need to mediate instead and to provide more interest-based negotiation,” he said. “There is a belief now that all parties should have more input, than in the past.”

While the litigation and negotiation team is made up of the top experts in law, physics, economics and engineering, negotiating one-on-one with individuals was a task new to many of them, Joiner said. “Many of them didn’t know how to get two parties to come to the table, to come to a conclusion and feel good about the outcome,” he said.

In addition, the continually developing energy trade business – with new forms of energy being developed and new types of management needed – brings inherent conflict as those involved must deal with continual change and new production models, said Hildreth, academic director of the institute.

Because of the institute’s trademark interactive, hands-on and real-world training style, working with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission meant plenty of front-end research and work for Joiner and Hildreth, who quickly had to become armchair experts in the energy trade business in order to apply the best conflict management concepts, role playing scenarios and case studies to the commission employees.

“Their attorneys helped us create scenarios that worked for them, and they certainly went beyond our understanding of the industry, but what matters is the process. We were able to offer them a good process,” she said.

Unlike many other conflict management and dispute resolution trainings available today, Lipscomb’s Institute for Conflict Management works to tailor each training it conducts to the needs of the specific audience, Joiner said. The faculty use different scenarios and case studies to train educators then they use with courtroom judges or health care workers.

This specialized approach was crucial for the federal commission. “Their world is very complicated,” said Joiner, noting that the commission often deals with cases involving hundreds of millions of dollars. “They wanted to be able to practice these skills within the field they actually worked in.”

The federal commission was introduced to Lipscomb’s Institute for Conflict Management when the commission’s chief of litigation attended a conference where Joiner and Lipscomb President L. Randolph Lowry spoke. Lowry is the founder of the Lipscomb institute, the founder of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution and a long-time, highly respected practitioner and educator in conflict management.

By working with the federal commission, institute officials learned new lessons which can now be passed on to Lipscomb’s own graduate students in the various conflict management programs, Hildreth said.