News alert – Ombuds are not perfect. Our Ombuds team recently had an “oops” regarding an issue related to the end of the fiscal year. It was not a catastrophic mistake by any means but it definitely fell in the category of blunders. The details of this event are not important and the issue will be resolved in a few days. What caught my attention was the way each person reacted and responded to this “oops”. 

Below is a snippet of the conversation: 

  • Team Member 1: “Really sorry – didn’t even think about it being the end of the year. Yikes!” 
  • Team Member 2: “I’m so sorry. I think I should cancel another purchase. That might help!” 

The next few minutes were spent creating a plan to address the problem and the conversation continued:  

  • Team Member 2: “I really like your email plan. Sorry for putting you in this position!” 
  • Team Member 3: “No worries 😊” 
  • Team Member 1: “My fault for not remembering it was the end of the year . . . I’ll take the blame for the purchases.”  
  • Team Member 3: “Don’t worry – it’s a crazy year and time!” 

This response to a problem reminded me of the unofficial mantra we have for group work expectations which I try to share with visitors whenever appropriate. At a minimum, team members should be professional, courteous, and collaborative in order to create and maintain a healthy and productive work environment.  

Professionalism.  

According to an article published on the Virginia Tech website discussing professionalism:  

In a recent study on Career Readiness conducted by NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers), employers who hire college graduates were asked which professional competencies were essential to workplace success. Professionalism/work ethic topped the list with 97.5% of respondents identifying it as either “absolutely essential” or “essential” for a new college hire’s success. (VT Career & Professional Development) 

The article continued listing several components of professionalism including: taking initiative, communicating effectively, problem solving and being resilient. All of these characteristics help  build relationships while working productively. Professionalism also encourages creating boundaries, discouraging unhealthy antics such as gossiping and promotes positive expectations for all employees. 

In the example listed above, all the team members stopped what they were doing and immediately addressed the problem. Each used supportive and encouraging language and everyone focused on solutions. Because we are so used to coming together as a team and focusing on the problem, our communications with one another were geared towards resolution and supporting one another. Each team member took ownership and accountability. 

Courteous.  

Shift Management, a successful career development and management company, defines courteous as: “treating others with kindness and tact. We take the time to speak and act graciously, showing people that we value and respect them. We make requests not demands. We remember our manners, greet others warmly, and listen closely when they speak. Courtesy is a way to honor others, showing them how much they matter to us by how we treat them. Those closest to us need our courtesy most of all. Courtesy is the mirror of their value.” 

There are many ways to be courteous including saying “Good morning” to colleagues, starting an email with an opening remark such as “Greetings”, “Good afternoon” or even a simple “Hello” and concluding

with a “Thank you” or “Appreciate your assistance”. Using manners such as “Please” and “Excuse me” are not old fashioned but rather ways of acknowledging others as humans with feelings. Very basic steps such as these take a minimal amount of time and can produce a great amount of rapport and generate good feelings.  

In the above scenario, you may have noticed the word “sorry” was used frequently as a way of demonstrating empathy. Each team member knew a number of steps would be needed to resolve the

issue and it was important to show regret. The tone of the conversation was friendly and non-blaming. In fact, on the contrary, everyone was trying to make the others feel better about what happened and continued to offer options in a positive manner. Although “please” and “thank you” were not used during the conversation, it was clear everyone was being considerate of feelings. Our words were based on a foundation of kindness rather than shame, helpfulness rather than indifference. Courtesy requires a combination of words, tone, and action.

Collaborative 

The Small Business Development Center at the University of Georgia defines collaboration as “when two or more people work together through idea sharing and thinking to accomplish a common goal.” It continues, “Collaboration can provide solutions, give individuals a strong sense of purpose and also reinforce that you are all on the same team”. We all make mistakes. What matters is that when a problem presents itself, we come together as a group to fix the issue as well as support and encourage one another throughout the process. One team member offered to cancel a recent purchase, another offered to take the responsibility for the mistake and the last team member did her best to reassure and comfort.  

Granted, this is one example out of thousands of conversations our team has throughout the year. We certainly have our moments of  frustration, haste or misunderstanding. In this scenario, I believe we behaved in a way that reminded us of our  core team values: maintaining professionalism, being courteous and collaborating in a positive manner. These values continue to serve the ombuds team well and. I hope they are useful to you when working with your team members. 

By: Melissa Connell, Ombuds Office Director, University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus