New Year’s Resolution = Conflict Resolution

 

It’s the end of 2017 and, of course, it’s time for 2018 resolutions!

What are your plans for 2018?

Here at the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds Office, we are working on our own resolutions (drink less coffee, eat a more balanced diet, get more sleep, help people solve more problems – the list goes on and on!!) yet there is one resolution we can make together.

Let’s choose an issue in our work life that’s causing us some difficulty and let’s do something about it!

In a program I present called “Conflict Leadership” I ask participants to think about how each of us approaches conflict using a framework developed by Ken Thomas and Ralph Kilman (Thomas Kilman Inventory of Conflict Styles) that includes five approaches – avoid, accommodate, compromise, compete, collaborate.  All have merit and are absolutely good choices depending on the circumstances of the situation and the outcome desired.  At the same time, we often don’t stop and think about our choices – we don’t anyalyze and think strategically about what our choice should be –  we have a default preferred style and we go with it even if it doesn’t really fit our situation.

And, as you probably already know – the most popular conflict style is to avoid it! Again, this can be the right choice when the issue is trivial or it needs time for folks to calm down or if given time it will resolve itself.  So, I’m not “anti” avoid; however, when we avoid work place issues these can grow to much bigger and more impactful problems.

Thus, make the following resolution for 2018 – pick a “smallish” work place issue that you’ve been avoiding, think about it, and decide if there is a way to do something about it – preferably to resolve it!

And, if you want some help contact the faculty & staff ombuds office and we’ll work on this resolution together!

 

What Happens When you Visit the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds Office?

 

How does the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds office do its work? I often get asked – “What happens when someone comes to the office?”  Well – let’s pull back the curtain!

Let’s start with scheduling. People can call, email or sometimes meet the ombuds in person – (note that email is not a confidential form of communication) and based on case data, Faculty initial contact is 51% email, 45% phone, and 4% in-person, while for Staff, contact is 28% email, 63% phone, and 9% in-person.  However the contact, we set up a time that works and I usually host people at the Faculty & Staff Ombuds office that is located just off campus – 112 Cox Ave., Ste. 212 & 213 with parking available. I’ve also met people at other on and off campus locations.

When the meeting time arrives and the location is my office, there is a knock on the door and I greet folks at the entry. We enter and sit at a small round table. I offer coffee or tea or water and have chocolate strategically placed on the table!  I introduce myself and explain the role of an ombuds – to help individuals, groups, and the university – solve issues / concerns while adhering to four core principles of ombuds practice – independence, confidentiality, informality, and impartiality.  Our office uses an Ombuds Role Disclosure  form to share and review this information.

Then I usually invite people to introduce themselves, their role at the university, as well as any other information they wish to share. Usually this also includes their concerns and why they’ve contacted the office. Once issues / concerns are shared we then clarify aspects as needed and I seek to understand what’s most important to the person (the interests behind the presented situation) and what they are seeking as an outcome. Then I work with the person to explore options.

We review as many different options as we can think of together and I share information about existing University resources that might be able to assist. Once options are noted, these are reviewed with the person to try to match options to the underlying interests and outcomes noted earlier in the discussion. This is where I particularly remind people that while the ombuds supports people, I don’t take a “side” in an issue or serve as an advocate for the person over another person or the university – I hold the middle.

At the conclusion of the conversation, there are usually several options to consider and even try out going forward. There are also times when the ombuds may take on an active role to help facilitate a conversation or may make an inquiry to get additional information. Sometimes the one meeting completes the ombuds service while other situations call for additional meetings and follow up conversations.

That essentially outlines what happens in a visit to my office. I don’t keep records with identifiable information yet I do track types of issues / concerns and aggregate data to spot trends. And, when appropriate, I’ll reach out to various levels across the university and share trends and/or surface issues while protecting the confidentiality of the source.  I only share this type of feedback with the permission of the person or if the issue can be shared in a manner that does not disclose the source (and I always talk to the person as to both whether and how this might work).

Hopefully this description demystifies a visit to the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds Office and let me know if I can help you.

Best wishes for the holiday season.

It’s all a matter of perspective – Going South !

 

I recently attended a gathering of NC ombuds and we had an excellent meeting with far ranging discussion. These are great meetings for ombuds to share ideas and ask for input on issues and ombuds processes.

At one point we were talking about how each visitor to the office usually comes in with only their own perspective and that part of our role is to help folks consider multiple perspectives. While we’ve all heard the phrase “there are two sides to every story” I’ve decided that this is not correct and that there are more like 6 or 7 even with only two people involved! And, as I’ve said many times in my mediation career, when asked about a situation, the answer always depends on which chair you are sitting in.  Thus, I think from the start of any visitor meeting that for each issue, dispute, or conflict there are multitude points of view and my hope and effort is to help people gain broader perspectives on the situation.

And, while we were on the topic of perspectives at the NC Ombuds meeting, someone brought up the use of the term “south” as in “things going south.” This is a phrase most are familiar and generally holds a meaning that things are not going well. We wondered why those of us who live here in the south, don’t instead say “things are going north”!!

I did a little research (not very scientific) and the thought seems to be that “things going south” as a negative statement is fairly recent in origin coming from business settings where a chart showing a decrease was headed down, the same location as “south” on a map; hence, “things going south” connecting with bad news.  Apparently in England, the phrase was “things going west” for a time although “going south” has made its appearance.

In any event, as we ponder how we consider a situation, including even language choices, an important step for those seeking to resolve issues is about shifting perspective or at least examining a situation from many vantage points. When such shifts occur people remove boundaries from their thinking, the constraints come off, and solutions may appear.  One significant perspective shift is the idea that the issue is not me versus you; instead it is “us” against the “problem” and together we can move forward.

Contact the Faculty & Staff Ombuds office if you want to consider how you think about a situation and then we’ll head south for a good outcome!!

The Third Way – 18 Camels

 

I met with a faculty member recently who shared a situation and how they responded. It was explained that when X happened, then the only choice was to do Y. The faculty member was upset, angry about the situation, so I listened. I then summarized what I’d heard to make sure I had the various pieces and to acknowledge the faculty member concerns. The faculty member visibly relaxed (they were heard) and then I said: “Let me make an observation and ask a question. When you shared the situation you framed it as X and then Y, as either or – what’s the third way?”

I have long stated that the idea that there are two sides to every story is wrong; instead, there are six or seven (even if only two people are involved)!  We all carry multiple perspectives within and these show up when we are in conflict. As I think about our multiple sides to every story, I recalled the work of William Ury, one of the authors of Getting to Yes, who has more recently talked about the Third Side of conflict resolution. Ury has an excellent Ted Talk – “The Walk from No to Yes” on the subject where he shares the story of 18 camels.

Here’s the story:

“One of my favorite negotiation stories is about a man who leaves his herd of 17 camels to his three sons as their inheritance. To the first son, he leaves half the camels; to the middle son, he leaves a third of the camels; and to the youngest son, he leaves a ninth of the camels.

The three sons get into an intense negotiation over who should get how many, because 17 doesn’t divide by two, or by three, or by nine. Tempers become strained, so in desperation they consult a wise, old woman.

She listens to their problem and says, “Well, I don’t know if I can help you, but if you want, at least you can have my camel.” Now they have 18 camels, so the first son takes half of them, or nine camels; the middle son takes his third, or six camels; and the youngest son takes his ninth, or two camels. Nine plus six plus two adds up to a total of 17 camels. There is one camel left over, so the brothers give it back to the woman.”

As Ury explains and as I asked the faculty member visitor – what’s the third way to consider the situation? Too often we think in either/or, we polarize situations, and don’t consider some other path.

Thus, next time you are stuck or better yet, before you get stuck, visit the ombuds – let me help you find the third way.

Case Examples

 

People often ask what kinds of issues, concerns, or conflicts come to the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds Office and I’ve added a page to the website providing some faculty focused case examples. (I’m planning a similar page for Staff issues.) I define a “case” based on a faculty or staff member contacting the office for assistance.  Sometimes there is a specific issue or often multiple issues or sometimes its just to share a more general concern. Check it out – Case Examples

Additionally, as I think back on each case, I believe one result of talking with the Faculty & Staff Ombuds is that the visitor to the office has a better understanding of what brought them to the office in the first place. And, based on this better understanding, there are typically more options to be developed and considered.  These are the two primary ombuds process goals I seek for visitors – a better understanding of the “problem” and potential options for engagement and resolution.

What can the Faculty & Staff Ombuds Office do for you?  Contact the office for assistance.

Thinking about the next chapter – all win retirement planning ??

 

Retirement can be both an exciting opportunity and challenging concept for any NC State Faculty member and perhaps for any and everyone!  The twofold opportunity / challenge dichotomy rang loud and clear in an Office of Faculty Development (OFD) program where several recently retired faculty shared their experiences. My purpose in attending and interest in learning about retiring from a university is based on several faculty ombuds office visits where I heard from some faculty members who had concerns about the retirement process.  The question on my mind was, and still is, how to create an “all win” situation where a faculty member can phase out of a successful academic career while also meeting the needs of a department – this would be the all win!

At the OFD program, one faculty member explained that they spoke with their department head about a year out and came up with a plan that worked for all involved. This was indeed an all win! On the other hand, I’ve heard from faculty that did not feel comfortable saying anything about retiring for fear of being isolated from their department, or for “losing” control of ongoing work and plans for finishing up items, or from feeling that nothing was owed due to current treatment. They gave their department a minimum period of notice and, while they put as much in place as possible, they also left it to the department to figure out the “what next” in many areas.

Additionally, for faculty members, their professional and personal life is often so tied together that the idea of leaving the university is fraught with fear of the unknown.  Thus, there is a range of support for faculty and staff who are thinking about retirement including a great Ready to Retire program here at NC State that goes over the nuts and bolts of retirement.  And, while the logistics matter, I’m still more interested in the the planning and really the potential for “joint” planning that could go on between a faculty member and their department head. And, while there can and are “legal” issues that could arise around a retirement discussion, it also does not need to be that type of conversation. Instead, could a department set up a joint retirement planning process that would seek to meet the needs and interests of a faculty member along with the department?  Can there be a way to normalize conversation about retirement so that it works for all concerned?

So, I’ve posed the question and I believe the answer is in the experiences of faculty that have or are in the process of retiring. What is your story? How did it go? I’d like to collect retirement (and leaving the university) stories to find out what folks believe are the best practices so that these can be shared with a broader audience.

Give me a call and share your story!

Weeks – Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution

 

In a previous post, I referenced Step 5 “look to the future, then learn from the past” from Dudley Weeks, Ph.D., “Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution.” With a new semester just underway, Weeks helps us think about resolving conflict as a partnership.  Here’s Weeks approach to resolve conflict while preserving relationships. Happy Fall Semester!

Step 1 – Create an Effective Atmosphere – “The atmosphere is the frame around the canvas on which we paint how we will agree, disagree, and build an improved relationship.” (p 71)

Step 2 – Clarify Perceptions – “If we perceive something to be a certain way, even if we are incorrect, in our minds it is that way,  and we often base our behavior on that perception.” (p 89)  Weeks process asks us to clarify “perceptions of the conflict, or the self, an of the conflict partner.” (p 90)

Step 3 – Focus on Individual and Shared Needs – This is one of those simple yet important ideas as people should think both about their own needs (not wants) and the needs of ones conflict partner.

Step 4 – Build Shared Positive Power – Focus on self, partner, and shared power. Weeks encourages us to think in positive terms.  “Positive power seeks to promote the constructive capabilities of all parties involved in a conflict.” (p 151) My preference is that people in conflict are not parties, they are people!

Step 5 – Look to the Future, Then Learn From the Past –  “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)

Step 6 – Generate Options – This step “can often break through the preconceived limitations we bring with us into the conflict resolution process.” (p 183)

Step 7 – Develop ‘Doables’: The Stepping Stones to Action – “Doables are (stepping stones) specific acts that stand a good chance of success, meet some individual and shared needs, and depend on positive power, usually shared power, to be implemented.” (p 204)

Step 8 – Make Mutual-Benefit Agreements – “Instead of demands, the parties focus on developing agreements that can meet some of each party’s needs, accomplish some shared goals, and establish a precedent in which power is defined as positive mutual action through which disagreements can be dealt with constructively.” (p 224)

American Bar Association – Ombuds Resolution

At the recent American Bar Association annual meeting, a resolution supporting ombuds programs passed without any dissenting votes. The resolution is simple and straightforward yet by its passage demonstrates the importance of the ombuds role today and into the future.

Here’s the full text of the resolution:

RESOLUTION       (103)

RESOLVED that the American Bar Association encourages greater use and development of ombuds programs that comply with generally recognized standards of practice, as an effective means of preventing, managing, and resolving individual and systemic conflicts and disputes.

The NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds program complies with the standards of practice and code of ethics as promulgated by the the International Ombudsman Association (these are the generally recognized standards) and its ombuds’ Roy Baroff is a Certified Organizational Ombudsman Practitioner.

 

How are you today?

Everyday we are asked “how are you?” in some manner shape or form. Most of the time the answer is “ok” with hopefully some “greats” and “awesome” thrown in and unfortunately there are the “lousy” and “awful” as well.
When people visit the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds Office we always talk about how folks are doing.  That’s the point of the office – to provide a place where people can share how they are “really” doing and explore ways to resolve concerns.  The office is confidential and off the record with only limited exceptions, so you can share the good, the bad, and the ugly.  And, the office is designed to be impartial – the ombuds won’t judge you or anything you’ve done; instead, together you will develop, analyze, and consider options to resolve your situation.
I see a lot of different “looks” from people in my office and now you actually get to “select” your look for the day!  Check out “How Do You Feel Today?” from the Conflict Resolution Network of New South Wales.