People often ask – what is it that you do as ombuds? As we explore this question, let’s first note that overall the ombuds role is primarily twofold – (1) to help people (individuals, groups, units, departments, etc.) engage with issues, concerns, disputes, complaints, etc., that usually arise in an organization and (2) help the organization as a whole do the same. I use the term engagement to include resolution of the situation; however, sometimes people don’t chose to seek resolution. All of this work is framed by ombuds standards and ethics promulgated by the International Ombudsman Association that establishes an organizational ombuds as independent, confidential, informal and impartial.
Today, let me focus on one aspect of this work that I often describe as coaching. And, not the “throw a chair at you” type of coaching; instead, its about supporting you in your thinking about a situation and helping you decide what, if anything, to do about it. It fits the adage that “two heads are better than one” with the ombuds being that second person.
This conflict or negotiation coaching is done by partnering with the person to talk through what’s important to them and then thinking strategically to determine options to get to the desired outcome. All this assistance is done from an impartial perspective with the idea of support without taking a side or being an individual advocate. Together with the visitor to the office we analyze the pros and cons of options. Then I encourage people to consider multiple paths at the same time. I don’t want people to head down one road only and then have it turn in to a dead end where you have to come all the way back out and then pick a new route. Instead, people should consider multiple routes at the same time. And that’s my coaching goal – that people leave the office with multiple paths to take.
With coaching in mind, I recently heard Washington University ombud Chuck Sloane (they use the term ombud without the “s”) describe his work as being a “thought partner” with the person visiting the office. This is a great description (thanks Chuck)! I think partnering fits quite well with coaching and its this idea that the ombuds can help you think strategically through a situation, can help identify resources, develop options and help you analyze and chose how you want to proceed.
Finally, in this day and age, there is recognition across the spectrum of our work and personal lives that people need coaches!! In the ombuds or ombud or ombudsperson of your organization – you have a ready made coach! So, give your ombuds a call !
Wishing all of NC State a great holiday season!
Best wishes from the NC State Faculty and Staff Ombuds office!!