Ombudsman ADR: “Factual Context” Technique

22 August 2010

Normally, by June or July, I like to do something on trends for the year and 2010 trends are something very different from 2009 and all my my previous experience with dispute or conflict management “internally”.  Contacts with individuals is up, but actually getting to the table or taking an engagement is down considering the ratio of contacts to intakes.  There is a variety of contributing factors, but I’d like to take this moment to focus on something to help anyone in our “craft” keep a handle on the turmoil and chaos they may be experiencing with “potential” clients.

It’s no secret by now that there is a lot of economic chaos happening as we speak and this adds exponentially to individual and group stress resulting in conflict.  My projections for small and medium sized business at the beginning of the year, unfortunately, are proving to be even more serious than I could have “existentially” imagined.  Large corporations are another situation all together currently, with both positive and negative impacts on individuals and communities “they serve”.  It’s tough, it’s hard for everyone, even the “elite” are complaining they didn’t get their full “due” when they had to step down, getting only half their millions instead of all that their interest was worth two years ago.  Currently, as I’m contacted, the issues revolve around “survival” of the business, employees as “family” now, while maintaining some, I repeat, some level of courtesy and decorum.  Regarding partner relationships between contracted employees, long time customers or supplier companies they had contracts or agreements to do business with, these are simply dissolving rapidly.  As I read the news and “listen” to what comes in, clearly there is a split down the middle and the normal bell curve one would expect to reflect the middle class income bracket is now inverted, but it’s more than just a “dip” in the road.

Our frustration has been to communicate clearly, get a good intake, listen carefully, but invariably emotions, anger, tension are more at the “surface” of what someone may have to say about their struggles and establishing any form of “factual context” concerning what basis they have for a complaint is exaggerated, embellished and misrepresented oft times.  Continued “cycling” with a focus on “lesser emotional struggling” and pointing out that perpetuating the “struggle” will not get to a goal they want.  I find myself, in trying to be altruistic and proactive for them, becoming more of just a “listener” while refusing to take the role of “anger management” counselor.  Keeping with “factual context” can circumvent the individuals emotional struggles, anger and even depression and provide the context to focus on their goals as a solution to the problem and establish again or learn to “own” an ethical approach again.

As a technique towards a “permanent” solution, it doesn’t always work, but to cut through the emotional chaos of the moment, we find the following has helped:

  • Frequently remind them in the interview that we need to document the factual context of the dispute.
  • More patience is required at this moment, but they can speed things up if they can just relax and focus on our exchange.
  • If I hear something potentially out of context, make a note and check it again after some time has passed.
  • Ask them to slow down and “reflect” on their statements and determine if they “ring true” or is something else happening.
  • Can they produce any material that supports a factual context versus their emotional declaration in the moment.
  • If detected in the “cycling”, ask them to check themselves to see if they are reverting back to “emotional struggling” again.
  • Asking if they see themselves contributing calmly to a solution and even questioning if they want that or something else.
  • Creating “factual context” list as their constant reminders prior to “shuttling” and/or them contacting the other party.
  • Ask them to meditate or contemplate in quiet, their situation and then contact us again after 48 hours.

Yes, I’ve written about the “blue ocean” of opportunity many times and it’s certainly over flowing currently, not just on the OO side, but in my other business consultancy also.  I have to admit, as busy as things are, it can get or am overwhelmed lately and for the first time I have to watch my energy, not get drained or let “burn out” take over.  I have to watch my own “tensions” with family and friends more, how about you?  Focusing on and firmly addressing and discovering the facts about their issue related to the context of their situation has proven a good technique or method to help keep a sustained focus; thus bringing “order from chaos” as best as possible.  It prevents excessive levels of “complexity” being introduced also, because often individuals want to discuss more than what can be handled and go out of “context”.  I hope these trend observations and discussion will help all who read it here as we are going to be more challenged than ever in months and years ahead to “make a choice” to peacefully resolve disputes/conflicts or polarize and damage personal, business and economic relationships; possibly beyond repair.


Ethical “Disconnect”: Corporate Business Models, Universities & Student Plagiarism

2 August 2010

What I’m about to set forth here is my opinion based on years of business experience, being a part-time university instructor and more recently an “independent” ombudsperson separate from any formal affiliation with “institutions”, be they universities, corporations or government.  I sometimes, not frequently, get propositioned with e-mail and phone calls to participate with college students by mentoring, tutoring, expert opinion interviews, mock ADR sessions etc.  I also get requests to take online tests, complete homework papers, make capstone or thesis proposals and other forms of “cheating” and plagiarizing of course work.  I also recently took an anonymous call from a student who’s on campus ombudsman office, due to policy, would not “take the case”, but they seemed “guilty” as charged because they had difficulty disclosing details while engaging in anonymous guidance?  It’s this last call that’s prompting this article.  As the fall school cycle approaches I must point out, more than any other situation and issue facing America today, this is the most critical and damaging to all areas of our society, especially business, the economy and commerce.  Here’s why…

I have had, on occasion, the opportunity to bring up the topic of cheating and plagiarism with associates and colleagues and to my own astonishment, the topic of discussion is quickly diverted and participation “shunned” and even warnings or caution given not to bring it up again.  In fact, this moment, I’m well aware that the only reason I can discuss this here in my own blog is I’m not employed by an institution that would most likely view this content as politically incorrect; and I’m ethical and confidential about my “sources” at such times as this.  Nevertheless, here is just a tiny pinch of interesting Internet and media “discussion” I’ve picked up so as to have my perspective and some background on this issue IF you’ve been lifting the rug and sweeping it away yourself.

In a recent study by the Center For Academic Integrity it was discovered that cheating by university students is a “pandemic” at this time.  Some highlights of the study:

  • 90% of students surveyed said they didn’t believe cheaters would be caught.
  • 85% said cheating is necessary to get ahead
  • 75% of students admitted cheating.
  • 90% of foreign students at New Zealand universities admitted plagiarizing work in an anonymous pole.

Here’s a story and video about a university “pulling degrees” ad hoc after investigating “complaints” from employers.

Here’s a CNN story showing how the Internet enables plagiarism and the International listings for thousands of on-line libraries of papers for students and custom writing of papers guaranteed free of plagiarized content… clearly the definition of plagiarism has a new liberal shift.

You too are probably familiar with the very early Harvard Law School and University of Virginia media publicized scandals and I won’t detail those, but there is a lot happening now that the Internet enables the “seamless” work group business model between students, professors/instructors and corporations.  I researched these and others and discovered that back then, like now, this moment, the majority of university ombuds offices will not take any case where there is a dispute between faculty and students regarding “unethical” test or homework practices.  They have to stay politically correct while the reputation of individuals and media scandals “damage” the innocent and honest students that worked hard to maintain the quality and standards of their alma mater and employer, not to mention their own self-esteem.  A huge gap here in ethics, morality and doing the right thing.

Some of the attitudes I’ve run into, not from a handful, but dozens of MBA and Ph.D educators is very lax and liberal to say the least.  I’ve heard of and watched them doing work for students on-line, believe it or not, under their own names when the obvious thing would be to create a “pseudo” personality to do such unethical practices.  To them it’s “okay”, they give a variety of “rational” arguments, my favorite is that President Clinton “redefined” what sex is and isn’t, they realized that applies to other “ethical” areas also.  No harm done they insist and in this economy they say they need the income if they are unemployed.  For me personally, in these conversations, I refuse to “breach” my personal ethics and take a steadfast “death before dishonor” stance.  With one person I argued back that this was all fine until one realizes that the new CPA had their exams and tests taken by someone else and the law shields them from liability between their client and the government.  Or how about the engineer that builds in a design flaw on a new car or worse yet and aircraft resulting in recalls, waves of financial loss and even crashes that kill people by the family or whole plane loads… disgusting.  This last week a scandal regarding FBI agents cheating on a “legal knowledge” test is also adding to my personal bias now in getting this post out.  Again, this is just the tip of it all and I lose more “friends” this way…

I’ve also talked with university students that told me it was the unspoken yet accepted “culture” in certain circles in the university to work on projects that a professor was project lead for that a corporation was outsourcing to the university for because it’s cost-effective in that the “donation” made to the institution is tax-deductible, they get the results needed for their next product innovation and funds for R&D have dried up and are not tax-deductible or have policy limits.  This is fine, a competitive strategy indeed, but passing down work this way and then “making issues” or holding the student responsible is a the typical negative end result.  In this “power structure” the student is at a severe disadvantage. The students then describe the “pressures” from professors if they don’t produce, effect on grades and so they know they can go “outside” and on-line to get published “ideas” AND employ the Web2.0 model linking to anyone globally that can do the work.

The corporations themselves want to be profitable for shareholder quarterly earnings statements, if public, or if private, stakeholders in a joint-venture have a lot of power and “outsourcing” of jobs cuts labor costs to bring projects in on-time and on budget. Unfortunately students have told me that this business model and philosophy is well learned by students who “outsource” their own work, once they learn how, on basic subjects that they can’t do too because they don’t have the time or skill to learn or do the work, but have plenty of money for from student loans, scholarships, family trusts and even under the table stipends that are more linked to college athletics in the media than what we are discussing here.  Mixing up “priorities” gets in the way too of proper decision-making and is another factor I see personally.  Additionally, there’s a huge “ego” problem as students go to their party and brag how their work is being done as they speak, they outsourced it, just like the company they want to work for when they graduate.

To wrap this up, from my “arm-chair”, it’s already too late and it will take “ethical individuals” establishing a reputation that differentiates them from the majority of unethical student/university/corporate society to “make it right”. Surely such ethical individuals will soon be scapegoats and become disenfranchised quickly as they go against the grain of the “accepted cultural practices”.  Add to this a VORTEX of increasing or doubling of tuition to prop up faculty retirement funds from recent Wall Street loses, raising or holding to large salaries for existing faculty or corporate executives, no job for them “as promised” after graduation because it’s outsourced; and the corporate, university, government sponsored capital all link together in “cycle” to keep the status quo at tax payer expense in a severely economically contracting market.  NO ONE has the answer or is facing the reality of this mess because we compromised our educations choosing immediate gratification today over quality and delayed gratification based on honest work, ethics and true merit.  We wonder how Intellectual Property is “lost” to a foreign market?  The answer to that question, though outside the subject of this article, is also answered in this same relational business education “corrupt” model.  This is the conundrum.  This is the critical “big picture” mess everything is in nowadays and it’s embedded in the ever closer relationship between individuals and institutions linked directly to compromised educational and corporate business values at ALL levels of society.