Visitors come to the Ombuds Office often knowing that we can facilitate two-way, informal communication that may help to resolve conflicts and concerns, but a common question often asked at the time of scheduling a consultation is “what if only I can come?” For whatever reason, in some circumstances, only one person (one party to a situation involving another person or multiple people) is able, or willing, to seek ombuds services. To these people, I like to say, “It’s okay. Come anyway.” Here’s why:
You know only that which you know and you can’t know everything…
Even in the age of vast amounts of information at our fingertips, sometimes it’s impossible to know all the various options available to us much less know which direction ultimately to go! Here’s where an ombuds could be helpful. Ombuds should know the institution or organization they work for inside and out. In knowing the specific hierarchical structures, decision-making processes and decision-makers themselves, an ombuds can help you tap into offices, services, policies or people that might be able to help with your particular situation. Ombuds can make referrals to appropriate resources offered on or even off campus. They can also share information about alternate methods of communication and different paths to take that might also lead to desired endings. If you wish, they can also help you sort through the pros and cons of using those methods or taking those various paths based upon your particular situational circumstances.
Sometimes, however, you might feel sure about the way which you need to go. That’s fine. Sharing that course of action with our ombuds may allow us to gather and provide relevant or clarifying information that you might not have thought about. The ombuds office seeks to give you the information you might need because we realize that the more you know about the direction you are headed, the better decision you can often make.
Perhaps you need a mirror…
We cannot see ourselves when we are in the midst of conversing with others, so sometimes it’s helpful to engage an ombuds in how you might approach having a conversation with others. An ombuds could assist you in coming up with effective communication strategies, approaches and delivery for the message you are trying to share.
Many ombuds are skilled in role-play. They can sit across the table from you to gauge the impact of your words and non-verbals as if they were the other party to your conflict or conversation. They can give you feedback so that if your message is lost because your non-verbal actions are distracting or the words you use are having an undesired effect, you are aware of it and can work on it before the actual conversation occurs.
You could use another set of eyeballs or a listening ear…
It’s common to question if we are seeing our situation accurately. It’s hard at times to remember that the lens through which we view the world is uniquely ours and that sometimes our own biases hinder us from seeing other perspectives. While ombuds can uniquely view a situation from an outsider’s perspective, it’s important to note that an ombuds does not listen to you to judge you or to determine who is right or wrong. Ombuds are here to listen to your thoughts and concerns without judgment. When only one side of an issue is presented, an ombuds will listen to understand the issue from the visitor’s perspective. While listening for the facts of a given situation, an ombuds may help with re-framing an issue or may help you to discover an alternative perspective, opening up possibilities for you to consider.
Many people benefit from just having an opportunity to be heard. It’s a freeing feeling to be able to voice what’s on your mind in a confidential space. Once issues are voiced out loud, people can often take the next steps to move in productive directions toward resolution of the conflict or concerns at hand.
So, please, do come to the ombuds, even if it’s only you.
By Kerry Tay McLean, Ombuds Program Administrator
University of Colorado Boulder Ombuds Office