In the Zone with Zone Meetings !

 

17 zone meetings in 6 days with 250 people.

That’s part of the NC State Staff Ombuds services roll out!

Over the past three weeks I’ve met with Housekeeping Zones across NC State. I’ve met folks at 6:15 a.m., just coming off their shift and 6:30 p.m., just getting started. I’ve met folks with 29 years work experience to three days!

I appreciated the warm welcome from Zone managers and all who attended and folks demonstrated a solid understanding of the staff ombuds role by offering on point comments –  you’re not HR, but you could still help with a workplace issue (yes) – and  asking some great questions ranging from “Where does the term Ombuds come from?”  (It’s from Sweden) to “How much does it cost?” (there’s no charge as it’s part of the many benefits staff receive here at NC State).

My overall take away from these meetings is that NC State has outstanding Zones and outstanding employees that keep the campus clean and allow for all to work and learn! To be sure, there are likely some issues (that’s true in any work place) and it is my goal for the Staff Ombuds Office to be of service in resolving workplace concerns.

Thanks again for the hospitality and see you around campus!

 

Emojis, tagging, instagram + dealing with hostile email – BIFF it!!

 

I’m working on a presentation “Conflict Resolution in Our Digital Age” and thinking a lot about our electronic communications. I’m on email and text most every day, yet working with people in conflict seems to work best when we meet face-to-face. That’s why most of my meetings are in-person. This is also supported by research that explains how spoken language makes up only a small portion of what is communicated.  The non verbal and other than conscious communication makes up a majority of what we see, feel and hear. The question is how do we manage this in our digital age?

I’m convinced that the emoji is one answer. Emojis are so popular because we want more than “just” the written word.  We want to capture the non-verbal stuff whether it be tone, cadence, or a full range of emotions. Emojis and now “tagging” help us fill in the otherwise lack of information we receive via email and/or text. It’s also why instagram is so popular – a picture is worth a thousand words.

However, if you find yourself needing to use words, here are some suggestions from Bill Eddy,  founder of the High Conflict Institute on how to deal with “hostile” emails. This is  based on Eddy’s idea that “high conflict” people require specific strategies to address and, hopefully, deescalte the conflict producing behaviors. Eddy has numerous books and training videos that may be of interest if you live or work with a “high conflict” personality!

Here’s Eddy’s strategy for dealing with hostile emails and he calls it the

BIFF response –           Brief         Informative          Friendly           Firm

According to Eddy:

Brief: A brief response reduces the chances of an angry back and forth. Brief signals you don’t take the other person’s statements seriously and keeps you out of sending anything resembling a personal attack. Focus only on the facts and make no comments about character or personality.

 
Informative: Remember the point of your response is to correct inaccurate statements. Focus on the accurate statements you want to make and offer facts only.

 
Friendly: A hostile response will elicit a hostile response back. A friendly response is focused on de-escalation, and other email recipients will notice that your response is clearly very different than the other person’s hostile email. Try as hard as you can to sound as relaxed and empathetic as possible.

 
Firm: Avoid comments that invite more discussion. You might even try, “This is all I will say on this issue,” or, “This conversation is over.”

So, keep sending those emojis and tags and next time you get that email that sends you to your keyboard with strokes fast and furious, remember BIFF and take a break before even thinking about a response. Take a walk, clear your head, determine whether you even need to respond. Then try a BIFF!

Dealing with conflicts – do you want or need a bridge ?

I recently saw an Ansel Adams exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art and along with iconic shots of the west, I was captivated by a 1932 photo of the Golden Gate before there was a bridge (the bridge opened in 1937). Adams lived in San Francisco, in the Baker Beach area, and apparently spent a good bit of time in and around the bay taking pictures and exploring the Marin hills. Here’s a print of the photo that is now up in my office.

So, what does a conflict look, feel, and sound like without a bridge?  How do we conceptualize and build such a bridge? Or, do we really want or need a bridge? These and other questions speak to me in this photo and, while as the Faculty & Staff ombuds, I certainly don’t have all the answers; I will work with you to figure out if you want or can build or perhaps find a bridge across a conflict.

Maybe the bridge is a referral to existing services or a facilitated conversation or it might just be the time in my office where you share an issue with the knowledge that it stays in the office unless you decide otherwise (with a few exceptions).  My experiences to date suggest that spending time reflecting on and discussing an issue or conflict provides clarity to the dispute and often generates some options for next steps. Sometimes you can envision a bridge that does not yet exist. Thus, I invite you to come by, enjoy the print, and we can also talk about some issue of concern.

Staff Ombuds – what types of issues / cases?

As I talk with NC State Staff members across the university as part of our roll out of the staff ombuds services pilot program, I am often asked – what kinds of issues or cases might someone bring to the ombuds? With this in mind, at a recent Staff Senate meeting I provided an office update that included four short case narratives to answer this very question. Thus, let me pass them on here as a case sampling.  Each situation includes a brief description and the type of assistance provided. In most cases there isn’t yet a specific outcome.

  • Staff member with concerns about treatment by Unit Supervisor Discussed strategy to bring concerns forward. Discussed potential referral to Employee Relations.
  • Staff Ombuds is working with senior leader to discuss program concerns based on staff members contacting the ombuds office.
  • Staff member with colleague who brought time sheet issue concerned about how to proceed. Contacted Employee Relations to learn about time sheet duties and responsibilities and provided information back to staff member.
  • Staff member whose work unit and larger setting going through reorganization with job duties shifted and concerned about job. Also concerned about interactions with supervisor around changes. Discussed potential sources of assistance ranging from OIED (Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity) to Employee Relations to FASAP (Faculty and Staff Assistance Program).

If you have a similar issue or something completely different, please give me a call and we’ll figure out if the Staff Ombuds Office can provide assistance.

NC State Expands Ombuds Services as Pilot Program

Beginning January 1, 2017, NC State has expanded ombuds services to include all staff members as part of a year long pilot program. (Staff includes employees working under the State Human Rights Act – SHRA -and those Exempt from the Human Rights Act -EHRA – with a non faculty appointment).  The expansion developed based on input and a resolution of the Staff Senate and with the support of Finance and Administration and the Human Resources office. Roy Baroff, who has been serving as the Faculty Ombuds will provide the expanded services that will follow the International Ombudsman Association Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice in a manner similar to the Faculty Ombuds Office. Information is available at – staffombuds.ncsu.edu

Here’s Roy Baroff presenting information to the Staff Senate on 2/1/17.

NC State Faculty Ombuds Office – First Annual Report

 

The NC State Faculty Ombuds Office is relatively new after opening its physical office space in late February 2015,  The office was the fruition of many years of effort by the Faculty Senate working closely with leadership across the university. Thus, the office is pleased to report that it recently published its First Annual Report covering office opening and its first full academic year of operations. The report also provides a comprehensive review of the office operations along with an historical perspective.

As the NC State Faculty Ombuds, It has been a privilege to serve the university to date and I look forward to continuing efforts to develop and grow the office.

Here’s a link –  Faculty Ombuds 1st Annual Report

It’s All About Options

In November I added a short video explaining the role of ombuds (check out the home page link Video Explanation) that discussed the idea of developing “options” as an important role of the ombuds.  This concept also fits well with noted dispute resolution author Bernie Mayer (and others like William Ury) who explain that conflict intervention roles can be thought of as the “third side” of an issue.  Don’t limit your thinking to one way or the other; instead, what’s the third side? At the same time, Mayer also cautions those in such roles to not focus on the “dualistic” thinking of resolution or impasse. This can surface in the ombuds role if one is singularly focused on resolving issues.

As ombuds, while part of my thinking is absolutely to help you resolve a situation, I must also keep this goal at bay because you may come to the office with a different route in mind. Thus, instead of a singular focus on resolution or even a dualistic approach – resolve it or impasse – the focus is on options.  What are the full range of choices/options available?  Perhaps a situation is not yet ready for resolution and instead more information is needed or a referral or purposely avoiding the situation might make sense. With consideration and a focus on option generation there are generally multiple possibilities.

Thus, my primary goal will be to help you generate multiple options based on your goals and then you determine how to proceed.

Hope you have a Happy New Year and Happy New Options to resolve any issues you face!

Resolving Conflicts – the Present, the Future, and the Past

 

As you may know, the NC State African American Cultural Center is in the midst of its 25th Anniversary year (1991 – 2016) (Congrats!) and I was on the Center website recently when something caught my eye. It was a banner showing the West African Adrinka Symbol Sankofa (“learning from the past” or “return and get it”). I wanted to learn more and found another version to share in this post.

Adrinka are visual symbols developed by the Ashanti people who are native to the Ashanti Region of Ghana. The presentation is of a bird turning around to catch its lost egg with the meaning that it is never too late to turn around and start on a new path once a mistake is recognized.

This idea fully resonates with my work in the conflict resolution field and as the NC State Faculty Ombuds as people can get bogged down in the past. Sometimes people are unwilling to recognize a mistake or are just stuck and, in either case, are not willing to start a new path. Connection with the concept of Sankofa, as I listen to faculty members share situations, I often encourage people to not fully discard the past in order to move forward; instead, use the past and learn from it in order to create a new path.

Thinking about the past and future is also part of the “The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution” by Dudley Weeks, Ph.D.  Weeks thinks of people in conflict as people in a partnership and that in order to resolve issues, people must work together. He outlines 8 Steps that focus on resolving conflicts and preserve relationships. Step 5 is “look to the future, then lear from the past.”  Weeks takes the idea of Sankofa and turns it around. He asks people and groups in conflict to first consider the present and the desired future, then go back to the past. Weeks explains: “Even though the past does indeed matter, we deny our own power and the power of development and change if we allow ourselves to be defined by the past, to be trapped in perceptions that use past patterns to limit present and future possibilities.” (p 165)

Taken together Sankofa and Weeks’ Step 5 provide a great tool to resolve conflicts. I encourage you to be in your present, then look to the future, and then check-in with the past. What do you want your future to be? Can the past help guide you or do you need new patterns? Good luck and let me know how it works out!

Confidentiality at the NC State Faculty Ombuds Office

 

One of the hallmarks of an ombuds office is confidentiality. In ombuds terms, this means that all communication with the faculty ombuds office is off the record with two limited exceptions – if there is imminent risk of serious harm (to oneself or others) or if required by law ( if information of child or elder abuse or neglect).  Otherwise the person contacting the office retains full control over what hapOffice Safepens with the information shared.

Confidentiality also extends to not maintaining records with identifiable information and for providing a secure storage location for materials that are confidential and actively in use. For a period of time, I’ve carried such files with me; however, I’ve added secure storage to the faculty ombuds office in the form of a small safe.   Check it out!

I hope this clarifies “confidentiality” at the NC State Faculty Ombuds and please contact the office if I can be of assistance.