by Mary Sue Love, Ph.D.
AOM Ombuds Committee
In a recent blog post from AOM Ombuds Greg Stephens, he introduced the Ombuds service and promised to speak to each of the International Ombudsman Association principles. As another AOM Ombuds, today, I want to talk about being neutral and impartial, particularly our “responsibility to consider the legitimate concerns and interests of all individuals affected by the matter” and our commitment to help “develop a range of responsible options to resolve problems” (See: https://www.ombudsassociation.org/IOA_Main/media/SiteFiles/IOA_Standards_of_Practice_Oct09.pdf).
Last month, my son’s roommate dropped by, and as she was venting about his lack of communication, I heard myself say, ‘you won’t be roommates for very long if you approach the situation like that.’ Needless to say, that was not neutral or impartial…and it ended up causing even more stress for my son as she went home angry, not just at him, but now at me too!
Last week, she dropped by again with a new list of complaints. This time, I didn’t scold her or tell her how to manage my son. I asked questions about her perspective, and then about his. Two marvelous things happened; first she didn’t get angry and storm out (good for my son). But more importantly, after her feelings and concerns were acknowledged, she was able to be a bit more reflective about his perspective, what he might be thinking and feeling in the situation. That’s exactly why Ombuds need to be neutral and impartial.
It’s our job to help you understand:
- the situation,
- your reaction,
- the other party’s stance,
- and find a well-rounded perspective with possibilities for resolving your dispute.
My son and his roommate are still struggling to find a resolution to their very different living styles. But, this time, I behaved differently. I put on my Ombuds hat, I didn’t judge, I didn’t lead. Will it resolve their dispute? No, of course not. But, her new perspective just might give them a chance!
Stone, Patton, and Heen call this the ‘third story,’ in their book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, or a perspective that both sides can agree on. While it’s work, it’s work worth doing. Here’s a bit more on the concept: http://www.pon.harvard.edu/daily/conflict-resolution/telling-the-third-story/.
As a matter of fact, we’ll use this and many other concepts in our PDW “Why Can’t We All Just Get along? Practical Conflict-Management Techniques and the Role of the Ombudspersons” in Anaheim on August 6th at 3:15 PM (Hilton Anaheim, Catalina 4) http://my.aom.org/program2016/SessionDetails.aspx?sid=11002. We’ll share and practice helpful conflict management techniques and offer a Q & A on the role of the ombuds.
And, if you need help with your roommate, or if you just like the artwork above (which is theirs), here’s one group of students’ work on roommate/relationship conflict http://stopthefight.org/?page_id=64.