Hostage negotiator Jeff Thompson shares techniques to mitigate crises at 2017 Southeast Conference on Conflict Management

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In a world where terrorists are leveraging power through chaos and fear, Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., a New York City police detective, hostage negotiator and adjunct professor in Lipscomb’s Institute for Conflict Management, has worked to create techniques designed to avoid such crises in the future.

SEConference_Side1On Wednesday, May 10, local business professionals, attorneys and community members gathered as part of Lipscomb University’s 2017 Southeast Conference on Conflict Management, to learn about Thompson’s techniques and de-escalate daily conflict in their companies and organizations.

During the conference, Thompson led two sessions, one on mental health crisis communication strategies, and the keynote address on terrorism and hostage negotiation.

“What I am going to try and do today is remove some of the ambiguity behind what we do, what’s being done by the government, by law enforcement, not only in this country but across the world,” said Thompson. “To help you realize some of the skills that are used, how you are able to adapt it and apply it to whatever it is you’re doing currently in this moment of conflict resolution.”

Thompson explained that when it comes to terrorism, kidnapping - as seen by ISIL, Al-Shabaab, Al-Nusra NS and Boko Haram - has become today’s most significant source of terrorist financing, simply because each transaction encourages another. Therefore, the U.S. must adjust their tactics to be prepared, he said.

“If terrorists are constantly training and adapting their tactics, then we need to constantly train, and prepare and modify our tactics. We’ve got to always be one step ahead of them,” said Thompson. “Bringing research and literature together for practitioners, as Lipscomb does through the ICM, helps make sure we are trained and prepared for these situations.”

Although terrorist situations are never black and white, there are several important steps of mediation that start and end with maintaining emotional control, said Thompson.

“As crisis negotiators we must maintain emotional control,” said Thompson. “Slow it down. Anyone wants to get a hostage back as soon as possible, but we can’t make irrational decisions…Another important step is de-escalate. We are negotiators, so do it with purpose and influence that person to see what you see.”

SEConference_Side3When conversing with a terrorist, it is crucial to avoid telling lies, arguing, escalating anger and talking about surrender,” said Thompson. “If there is a mental illness that is motivating this attack, it is significant to remember that mentally ill individuals are fully capable of thinking and acting rationally, so the role of the negotiator is to help influence behavioral change – which is often times a team effort.

Thompson closed his speech by emphasizing the importance of taking care of yourself. “We all do a good job of helping others, make sure you are taking care of yourself too – cause it can take a toll on you,” he said.

Thompson has presented and trained a variety of audiences including police personnel, government officials, judges, attorneys, business professionals as well as undergraduate and graduate students in areas of conflict, mediation, crisis and hostage negotiation, communication and nonverbal communication.

Hosted by Lipscomb University’s Institute for Conflict Management, which is housed in the College of Leadership & Public Service, the conference also included four break-out class sessions which featured a variety of experts in conflict management and dispute resolution discussing valuable topics including diagnosing conflict, how to market a mediation practice, mental health crisis communication strategies, intergenerational conflict, conflict management in higher education, effective advocacy mediation and congregational conflict and peacemaking, among others.

Other event speakers included:

  • Tracy Allen, attorney, mediator and adjunct faculty at Pepperdine University School of Law, Lipscomb University and the University of Michigan;
  • Dr. Betty Gilmore, director and faculty member, Southern Methodist University Center for Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management;
  • Dr. Steve Joiner, dean, College of Leadership & Public Service, Lipscomb University;
  • SEConference_Side2L. Randolph Lowry, president, Lipscomb University;
  • Elyce Morris, director and counseling attorney at the University of California at San Diego and dean of students and assistant dean for student and diversity services at California Western School of Law;
  • Kate Payne, associate professor of nursing at the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University Medical Center;
  • Linda Seely, director of American Bar Association of Alternative Dispute Resolutionattorney and Rule 31 mediator;
  • Stephen Shields, president of Tennessee Association of Professional Mediators, Rule 31 mediator, partner, Jackson, Shields, Yeiser & Holt;
  • Mark Travis, attorney; and
  • Jack Waddey, attorney, Rule 31 mediator and adjunct faculty, Pepperdine University.

The Southeast Conference on Conflict Management has featured some of the nation’s leading experts in the fields of conflict management and dispute resolution since its inception in 2006. Previous keynote speakers and presenters include: “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, Former Secretary General of NATO Anders Rasmussen and former hostage negotiator-turned-hostage Terry Waite, among other international notables.

Lipscomb University’s Institute for Conflict Management offers a Master of Arts degree in conflict management in addition to a graduate certificate in conflict management. The institute also offers a Professional Skills Program, featuring a panel of nationally recognized experts in dispute resolution with three days of educational opportunities for practicing professionals; Rule 31 civil and family mediation training; and special programs for church leaders and members of faith groups in addition to other seminars and events.

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