flict intervention, and (iii) conducting prevention work
within the organization.
Typically O. Ombuds do not initiate activities, directly
intervene in a conflict without being invited, or actively
prevent conflict from occurring. They wait for visitors
to come to them with an issue, and then provide the
appropriate conflict resolution services. An ombuds
might also observe trends and work, after-the-fact,
with departments or groups to prevent certain kinds of
conflict, while keeping specific cases confidential.
An Activist Ombuds might initiate group discussions
to get feedback or buy-in on an issue and actually participate in seeking the recommended solution. The AO
may facilitate difficult conversations, even if not directly
related to a grievance presented to the ombuds office.
An AO is more likely to provide direct mediation services
rather than contract them from an external source. The
AO might also be even more proactive on individual concerns, stepping into a situation where they see conflict
may emerge and providing coaching or other services
that might prevent the conflict. The AO’s approach may
develop over a long time as a result of the reputation of
the ombuds Office and the personal commitment and
ability of the O. Ombuds to take on an activist role.
THE HOW – HOW CAN OMBUDS
AND MEDIATORS WORK TOGETHER?
As noted in the beginning of this article, many mediators do not understand the ombuds profession. Hopefully
this article has given some insight into who ombuds are,
what they do, where they do it, and why they do it.
How can other ADR professionals collaborate with
ombuds? Ombuds often do not have authority to officially mediate, and they will look to a roster from their
legal department or from a local ADR organization. If a
mediator gets to know the ombuds in the community
where the mediator practices, the mediator will have a
much better chance of getting on that company or university’s roster and being selected. If ombuds are invited
to the local ACR chapters, perhaps to speak on what
they do, then both parties intermingle and are linked
for all things ADR. The reverse is true. The local ombuds
chapters need to invite mediators to talk to their groups.
Similarly, if the ombuds needs a major assessment
of a large department and does not have the time, who
are they going to call? If neither the ombuds nor Human
Resources nor Training has the right expertise for a training that needs to be done quickly, who are they going to
call? If they need a Myers-Brings test done for a department and they are not certified, who are they going to
call? When they determine that an outside facilitator is
appropriate for a major administrative meeting, who are
they going to call? Who are they going to call when they
finally, after a year of talking with the executive team,
got the approval to integrate the entire conflict resolution system? They could do it themselves, but they are
a staff of one and just don’t have the time to do it all by
themselves. Or if the CEO is finally convinced he needs
some coaching but would rather it not be the ombuds,
who are you going to recommend?
As a full service ADR consultant always looking for
the next consulting job, wouldn’t it be nice to know the
ombuds in the cities where you practice? Wouldn’t it be
nice if you were memorable to the ombuds when they
needed help with one of their projects? And when you,
as an executive coach, finally get your client to see that
an ombuds office would be a vital addition to their conflict
resolution strategy, wouldn’t it be nice to know some local
ombuds who you could work with to set that office up?
I believe there are a lot of conflict resolution consultants, mediators, facilitators, coaches who would jump
at the chance to be a contractor for one of those scenarios. So how will all of us ADR professionals ever know
about each other if we do not make the effort to learn
about each other’s specialties’? Conflict resolution is a
growth industry (sadly) and is in demand in ever more
nuanced ways. It is to our mutual benefit to get to know
each other. The more we know and understand what
our colleagues do, the better able we are to present
ADR – Appropriate Conflict Resolution – with a unified,
Like the bag of Halloween candy, though it all may sound
terrifically good to eat, if we know what is in the different
candies we can avoid those we don’t like or might not be
good for us and pick the one that exactly fits our appetite!
There is candy enough for all to be rewarded! n
Howard, Charles L., The Organizations
Ombudsman: Origins, Roles and Operations,
A Legal Guide, ABA Section of Dispute
Resolution, 2010, 642 pgs. Most of the
information regarding the history and
development of the ombudsman came from
this book. This book is the most comprehensive
book on the ombuds profession.
Gadlin, Howard, “Toward the Activist
Ombudsman: An Introduction,” Conflict
Resolution Quarterly, v. 31: 4, Summer 2014,
pgs. 387-400. The brief introduction to Activist
Ombuds came from this article. The Summer
2014 Conflict Resolution Quarterly is devoted
almost entirely to the ombuds profession.
For more information on the ombuds profession:
International Ombudsman Association – IOA
United States Ombudsman Association - USOA
Organization of News Ombudsmen – ONO