I was speaking with a visitor late last week. We ombuds identify people who we meet with as visitors because when they meet with us its off the record. They are not our clients and we don’t represent them; instead they are visiting.
So, I was speaking with the visitor who was sharing a concern about their interaction with a university service and how they (the visitor) felt they were treated rudely. The visitor wanted some help thinking through the situation and determining options to share their experience.
As we talked and I listened to the visitor one aspect became crystal clear – the visitor wanted someone to really listen and hear what they had to say. So far that had not happened. Fortunately, listening well is very much what we do as ombuds. It’s probably the core skill and comes in many different names – active listening, compassionate listening, empathetic listening, skilled listening, etc.
The idea of empathetic listening is a very accurate description of what happened with this visitor. I wanted them to really “feel” heard while also not taking their “side.” Empathy is where one seeks to understand emotionally from another perspective yet does not require or mean that the listener agrees with the visitor. It’s about acknowledging the emotional, how people feel, and the visitor truly “feeling” heard.
Here’s a helpful description of empathetic listening that captures its power.
Do you need some help? Do you want someone to listen? Go Ombuds.