Ombudsperson ADR: “Money Changes Everything”

13 February 2011

I’ve chosen this title as the “theme” for one of the most critical types of situations that I’ve “engaged” for decades in business.  It also creates the most conflict, polarization and chaos in all types of business “personalities”; and it basically has to do with any type of funding to make the entity viable.  Normally I’d practice “ombudsmanship” if this were in my “other practice”, but this time I got a referral from a past client I coached on his dispute as an Independent Contractor.  In this scenario, money acts as a catalyst for change and is regarding the ongoing internal dispute between “owners” of a new start-up e-commerce company.  We handled this using ODR methods with the 6 C’s Of Sociocratic Peace Building process.  The outcome was very successful and it’s been over three months now without any recidivism. As I’ve mentioned previously, a vast majority of our work is “coaching” the dispute process asymmetrically, which continues, but this case was “traditional” and satisfying to handle.

The background on this is that one of the group was referred to me by a previous client and the new client is a 19-year-old “web developer” that has been “informally” participating with a group of about 6-10 guys, depending on the time of year, regarding starting a new web based e-commerce company.  He quickly, verbally, laid out his case as one of the “younger guys” of the informal group, where ages ranged up to the mid twenties.  Key to the informal group structure is that it shrank and grew in its informal membership, where no business plan had been developed, but they would have “lan parties” for gaming and informal pizza and beer meetings over the development of the new start up company.  When I asked how long this “idea” phase of the new business had been going on, my client indicated he’d been “in it from the start” and it has been sporadically ongoing for all of 2010.  What was making things so urgent now was that one of the guys was talking to a “rich guy” about funding their new e-commerce business and got a commitment of $300,000 cash in an email, with contingencies; and so they are all now “rushing” to meet requirements.  Indeed, from this moment forward, money changed everything as every type of dynamic between “business partners”, mostly bad, began to unfold.

To start I simply got my client to email everyone, have a meeting and present me as a person to help them “sort out” their conflict now that “cash” has corrupted everyone. Surprisingly, they all agreed, including more people than has been actively involved.  First step, formally define who’s in and who’s out.  Surprised me again when they had a roster within 48 hours.  Thus we discovered, to my clients elation as he was included out of all the “informal” members to date, a roster of 6 people total.  This process is also indirectly contributing to the planning they overlooked.

Next step, get a one page narrative on the WWWWHW’s (who, what, when, where, how, why) including their role, contributions to date and description of what the conflict is from each individuals perspective.  Again, surprised, all email contact information and cell phone numbers were provided to me and I sent these out… all came back completed within days.

I then did quick 20-30 minute phone interviews with each “member” of the new entity for purposes of building consensus and determining how adaptive each guy would be to formalizing the business structure. I also did some preemptive discussion where I detected an intractable ‘position’ by relaying my years of experience and wisdom in such situations and the “worst case scenarios” I’d witnessed through the years, thus cautioning them all, individually, that if they can’t “play nice in the sandbox”, everyone will be impacted and the financing opportunity they have in front of them would be over.

Everyone agreed that things got “really serious” when the “letter” from the investor offering $300,000 was circulated and this triggered greed and selfishness rather than the continued “fun and teamwork” they had all been demonstrating for a year.  In a conference call I related my previous experiences where the worst I’d seen in my career was a group of  “grown men” who broke from “formal” agreements, business plan and slit throats practically for their own gain over everyone else in their yet to be funded company.  I then asked them, “do you wish to all do the same?”  Verbal consensus quickly came, thus providing the common point of focus to cooperate and continue to have them develop a document that they all sign and agree with so as to have structure and boundaries of membership in the face of potential protest from individuals who are now excluded. Again, I’m surprised, as everyone agreed with roles and titles with responsibilities in the new company based on the “concept” model of the business as discussed.

I then simply laid out, from the interviews, written and verbal, where the “points of conflict” potentially were, got consensus again for a solution as to what would be best based on my business development experience and venture finance, in various areas.  One key point I made was that, “the money is not yours” that you are getting, it’s the funds for the new company as an entity and they are stewards of the money and accountable to each other and their benefactor. It happens in every case I’ve ever had for over two decades that the common misconception is that the beneficiaries think the funds are theirs now.  This fact further stabilized perceptions and brought some order from chaos over “money” issues.

The second common “theme” was that everyone was, in their own way, maneuvering and holding each other “hostage” over “ownership of contributions of Intellectual Property” to make the enterprise run.  Everything from one guy hurrying to register the domain name and then charge everyone thousands of dollars to buy it from him, to another guy wanting royalty payments from his programming of the financial interface on the website as money came in from transactions.  There’s more, but again, once it was pointed out that they were “holding each other hostage”, polarizing the group in to “me versus them”; and not cooperating they began to see more clearly.  At this point I simply asked each person, live in the call, “do you want out now or want in for the long-term?” so as to get intentions out in the open for all to confirm.  In addition to this, the solution everyone is to follow through on their commitments, contributes as they said they would all along and then in reality, for a start-up, revenue sharing of net gains improves as the company performs and does well.  If anyone holds back, it affects everyone.

In the end they completed their “terms of consensus” memorandum as a prelude to their business concept and planning.  I reviewed it for completeness from gathered information, they all signed, I have one on file, and they are now moving ahead with a new company and the understanding that before it’s over, more conflicts will inevitably come up and they now know how to resolve them.  Once again, my previous experience and background go hand in hand as I’m in my second year formally as an OO and referrals now come… a pleasant surprise finally.


The New Ombudsperson: Career Choice And The MBTI Instrument

28 October 2010

I have the distinct pleasure this year, several times, to talk to many individuals contemplating becoming an Ombudsperson.  Some were offered a volunteer position of some sort in elder care, others recognize they have played a similar role consistently in their previous or current job; and still others are simply curious.  To help evaluate this personal decision you may want to consider taking the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI to determine if your innate personality characteristics are suited to the profession.  This is but one step to help come to a decision; and could assist with guidance towards any type of career consideration.

I bring this into the equation because in my “other practice” in 2009 I had bid a project and then was asked to take the MBTI online and submit the results for purposes of “team makeup” they said, which I did.  I’d also taken this, as many of you also probably have, as an undergrad in college where requirements to be a “lab rat” to graduate were also required.  What I noticed is that in the approximate 30 year time span from my original MBTI and the 2009 “test”, I’d kept consistent with my “assigned category” from then to now, which can be good or bad depending on how one wants to look at it.

Below are some raw links to further investigate for yourself and even take the “exam”.  It can also be administered in person professionally, please Google for yourself to explore dozens of resources online:

https://www.mbticomplete.com/contents/learnmore.aspx

http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/take-the-mbti-instrument/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator

To spike your interest even further here is a table of personality type categories below:

And if you’ve stayed with me this far, nope, didn’t win that bid, but rediscovered “why” I took the degree program I did 30 years ago and “why” I continue to be what I am today.  I hope this helps everyone select a potential new career for 2011 that is in alignment with your “core” disposition; or confirm your present career choice. Oh, and in case you are wondering… INFJ.


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.


Ombudsmanship & Successful Contract Negotiations

19 July 2010

Over the last six months I’ve been working on a long-term “contingency” project, something I said I’d never do anymore, but this time I just “knew” I could provide experience and skills needed to solve a long-standing deadlock.  In addition to that, a conservative modeling of the contract projected gross earnings of $2,000,000 the first year had a significant influence too, not to mention new jobs and filling a recognized gap in corporate communities nationwide.  The client contacted me and for about an hour at the beginning of 2010, she laid out a long and winding road of cycling back and forth over decisions between her and a Fortune 500 company seeking her organizations Wellness Program services.  She “knew” she didn’t have “control” over the situation and was perplexed as to how to get out of the whirlpool of wasting time, energy and resources and find a mutual solution for both sides.  Not to keep you, the reader, bored with all the background details, I’ll just say that after 12 full months all terms have been re-negotiated and the contract signed as of this month.  Success… here is what made the difference and you can consider it too.

First, I took an “asymmetrical” approach and to save even more time I simply offered to work day by day with her on whatever issue popped up and we would look at it and find the solution.  Key to this was COMMUNICATION and having complete open channels and reciprocity between us at all times.  I chose this approach after doing a case history and realizing the company was good at serving the end customer directly, very knowledgeable and skilled, but not at all familiar with partnering or sub-contracting to a larger entity.  All of the principles of The 6 C’s of Sociocratic Peace Building were also applied between “our team” and their entity.

Second, we re-established communications with the Fortune client on the basis or “excuse”, that it’s a new year and “whatever happened to our contract discussion from last summer” and within 24 hours an “invitation” came back indicating they’d like to pick them up and begin again IF some substantial changes could be made.

Third, the “terms” came over and an analysis began. In “corporate speak” there is a lot of talking, but no communicating and the “terms” I read indicated that I had a client that didn’t “speak the language” and her Fortune client knew what they wanted, but didn’t know the “how” to get it and this is the “unspoken” path to success… if one can “sense” it and see it.

Fourth, we replied with a proposal and began to negotiate the terms.  The “key word” that really opened things up and caused an immediate “surge” in activity was to propose a “pilot program” lasting 90 days.  This offers “both sides” the opportunity to discover if it’s going to work or not and then a decision is made.  We are now, the moment of this writing, PAST the pilot program point and a full open end contract was awarded.

Fifth, if you see “gaps” in terms between the two entities one side has to come forward and break the dysfunctional cycling of “talk” and demonstrate “substantive” solutions.  This has a cost attached, always, and for the first time, yet another barrier was over come because we put actual costs in a proposal.  In the closing rounds the Fortune client tried to get into a position so as not to have to pay for custom operational and administrative infrastructure required to manage the partnership and this took the longest time of back and forth discussion and providing substantiation of costs.  There’s a danger in this at this stage, but I won’t go into that to keep short here, but let’s just say there are “levels” of disclosure towards the objectives and goals as long as you keep pointing them out and repeating them as needed.

Sixth, the “compass” or guiding principle I gave my client in the beginning was to always answer this question in your own head at any given moment and stage of negotiations. “When are you in adversarial, neutral or consensus mode with your customer/client/partner?”  The practical answer to this question is that at any given time one never really knows, but you must “sense” where you are and RESPOND appropriately to keep a once stalled process moving forward.  You could be adversarial about points in the contract and communicating from a neutral stance and be in consensus on intentions and you have to constantly contemplate all of these dynamics.

In closing, most of “our” work is ad hoc to some situation, contract, relationship “gone bad”, but as I’ve written before and in this case specifically, you can provide “intervention” during the process of coming to terms between entities without lawyers and other “polarizing” traditions.  The minute you say, “I’ll have my lawyer look at this contract before I sign it”, you just performed a “mea culpa” that you may NEVER get an opportunity, as a party to an agreement, to bring to favorable outcome.  In this case my client never did this, but rather stayed neutral and kept a diplomatic position enabling and empower everyone to later move forward once communicating details of every single point was covered and substantive demonstrations of the capacity to “perform” were provided. This provides “confidence” on both sides to “get married” and begin a mutually beneficial, job producing, health preserving program.  For me personally, my “formula” for combining ombudsman ADR during a business activity as an ombudmanship skill continues to be viable and therefore substantiate my work in “the blue ocean” of opportunity.  Good luck in your endeavors too…


The New Ombudsperson: Google Voice Technology Review

27 March 2010

Google Voice is the new “single phone number” services application that leverages VoIP telephone services and “integrates communications channels”.  GV is offering a variety of very convenient and functional features for purposes of mobility and managing a network of partners all with their own “stand alone”  POTS/PSTN (plain old telephone service/public switched telephone service) telephones, computers, texting devices and other messaging applications.  Currently Google Voice is FREE, you simply send you email address through their “Request an Invite” button.  It’s probably better to send a Gmail account for priority consideration (hint hint).

There is an extensive and broad background on this “feature type” of telephony technology, but I’ll keep it as simple as possible in what has lead us to this point today.  In the early 90’s, the cellular phone industry was trying to come to mutually agreed upon telephony standards for what was called “single number services”.  These single number services would enable routing of calls to a single point of contact number through a software enabled and enhanced dashboard interface.  This never happened.  Routing of calls became easier over the Internet using “porting” instead, thus VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol  emerged.  Closer to the Holy Grail of “single number services”  in the last decade has been VoIP through companies that are now public corporations, like Vonage or through other players more recently that have been “gobbled up” by Google (SIPphone and Gizmo5 are two of these), but all are personal and small business VoIP telephone service providers.  Yours truly happens to have an advanced Vonage set up currently that routes incoming calls to a single line out to my “softphone” (computer installed software application that looks, feels and works like a “virtual” hand held telephone), home phone and cellular number.  There are also companies offering PBX style and Enterprise wide VoIP for large companies, institutions or organizations with decentralized locations locally, domestically or internationally, but these are outside this discussion here.  There is also Skype (owned by eBay) that is a major privately held player in VoIP services for “in network” free calling like SIPphone and Gizmo5 used to be; and Skype charges to place a call “off network” domestically and internationally.  Enter Google Voice, the perfect application for the New Ombuds small practice “single member” owner or two member partnership with small support staff.  GV pulls together all landlines, Skype, VoIP or even satellite phones into one manageable “back up” virtual location while leaving subscribers free to answer their existing communications lines.

With that said, let’s get to some of the key features and benefits as to why this application “works” for the SOHO (small office home office) crowd.

  • Call Widgets: you don’t have to be an “open systems developer” to use Google Voice Widgets.  Once you send your invite and are accepted, you get to select your phone number and then generate and use a Call Me widget (you have to log into Google account to view this) or the Google Voice Connect , which is demonstrated on MacLitigator’s Blog.  The Call Me widget is for embedding on your blog or website and enables people to call you at home, office or cell through the Google Voice number without disclosing the private number(s) actually taking the call.  As calls come in from the public to your website caller ID and message screening are “on” and you can accept or reject calls.
  • Google Voice Groups: this is for setting up your address book and contacts for personal, professional associates or colleagues, clients and others.  Each Group can be routed and handled differently to ring through Google Voice number, for example Clients Group, can go to your office and/or cell phone and skip the home phone.  Voice Messages can be customized for each Group, friendly and personal for family and friends or professional greetings for incoming new client calls.
  • SMS to Email: I personally prefer a SMS or Short Message Service if in a meeting or out in the field.  This lets me return the call when I “can talk” versus being interrupted or leaving to hear the message just left.  This is the same as Text Messaging on a cellular phone service.  Incoming messages read like email and you use your computer email (gmail.com) or Email cellphone application to reply and best of all, it’s free as it by passes those 10 cents per message fees from your cellular service provider.  Probably the best thing is you can “sms blast” a message out to a maximum of 5 people in your contacts and groups at one time, again, perfect for the small office to alert and call a conference call or physical meeting giving an out of office location.  More safe and secure than Tweeting.
  • Call Screening: you can listen to incoming calls to your home, office or cell phone through Google Voice and let the call go to voice mail or hit the star key to take the call at any point as the caller leaves their voice message.
  • Mobile Apps: these are not to be confused with Google Voice Widgets.  Google Voice Apps are for mobility and are standard on the iPhone and Google Android, which give complete and full control over all Google Voice dashboard functions.  As usual, Google Voice is an “open application” and developers are working for similar api interface for SMART phones in general.
  • Conference Calls: this is probably the best feature as FREE conference calls with up to 5 group members or contacts can be set up as calls come into your Google Voice number at a set time OR you can call out, connect, and then add callers to the conference call.  For e-mediation this means you can meet with “both sides” on their speaker phone and you should wear a headset to conduct the session.
  • Voicemail Transcription: another handy tool is when you let calls go to voicemail or decline an incoming call, voice message come over as a transcription in Email.  All those times you wanted to get the “statement in writing” this is one way to do it.  The “engine” is still in development and so the actual .wav recording will need to be checked for accuracy against the “transcribed Email”.
  • Voice Recording: If you want to capture a conference call, ADR session  or one-to-one discussion simply hit 4 to begin recording the call and hit 4 again to stop recording.  Very handy for those board meetings too and best practice governance when participants are in remote areas of the country and not able to attend every meeting in person.

For even more information here is the Google Voice YouTube Channel (Blue “Request an Invite” button at top right of the screen) and Google Voice Website , again, you may have to log in.  Enjoy…


The New Ombudsman: Esotericism and Ethics

24 January 2010

It’s the time of year where we all look back over the last year and prepare to continue the voyage by adapting, learning and adjusting our sails so to speak.  In reviewing my contributions on this blog, easily, one of the constant themes I advocate is the “ethics and integrity” of the profession.  I have been doing this because my personal experiences and knowledge have led me, over the decades, to identify these personality characteristics as being key to general business success.  It’s NOT enough to simply talk about “best practice” or what your company is doing to be more socially responsible and attuned to the needs of stakeholder, the local community and customers.  It’s important to BE “it” and it takes courage to do so at the risk of being “politically incorrect” since, depending on the source of information, approximately 80-90% of the population lacks “ethics” as a basis to conduct their relationships.  So, in order to provide some basis I’d like to share something very interesting I discovered over the holidays from a family member who validated my consideration of “ethics” in society in a very esoteric way.

During the holidays we all chat and catch up with each other, share opinions on every topic imaginable and one of those topics was December 21st in the year 2012.  There are all forms of entertainment and esoteric research documentaries on this, just Google 2012 video for a long list of links.  I’ve personally spent some leisure time watching them, including prophecy regarding the Mayan Calendar and the 2012 date.  What one particular family member had to introduce me to was more interesting to me than anything else about the “the end of the world” and that was the Mayan Calendar of the Conscious Evolution of Earth.  If you have to scroll down to see it, I’ve put it at the end of the post here, right click on it for a larger view in another tab or new window as you read along with me.

As I have now researched and read and had it explained to me by my sibling, this calendar is a MAP of our Universe with relation to it’s Consciousness expanding and moving from single cell life through billions of years to become “homo-sapient” today.  Personally, I can see, as I contemplate the Calendar Steps of the pyramid, that some civilizations and cultures are in their Tribal  and Regional stage of development and achievement.  In other civilizations it depicts scientific, technological and advances in awareness at the Planetary and Galactic levels.   The map also depicts the same number of steps you’d see on a pyramid if visiting any one of them on the Yucatan Peninsula.  The first step is the inception of the Universe and “life” as we know it.  I won’t take time to go into excess detail, but anyone interested should research this for themselves knowing that the Mayans had this as a form of reference and it was given to them by the God “Quetzalcoatl” according to myth or legend, take your pick.

So here I am, looking at this esoteric information and I can’t help, but notice what my family member has pointed out to me based on a discussion about “important personal characteristics to be an ombudsman”; and that is on the 8th step up.  In January 5th of 1999 we entered the Galactic phase of conscious evolution and the cornerstone of what “life” is to achieve is… the practice of Ethics in our relationships and everything we do.  For me personally I have just observed the world around me, watched the news and other media flooding our minds daily and long ago came to my own conclusion that people want truth, honesty, character, integrity, justice, fairness and any other relevant adjective you can think of and they are screaming for it daily all around us.  While they scream for it from our representatives in government, the even bigger question and test is going to be, “will they become “it” themselves first?”  Anyway, if you glance up to the 10th and last step, Universal consciousness, this happens almost 2 full years prior to December 21, 2012 and to me this means we are going to see significant change and the conscious integration of all previous “steps”.  These are not single moments or events in time, but from what I have been told and learned, these are the final steps in our current 76,000 year evolutionary path from an Earth perspective.

In the last year I’ve noticed that clients demand transparency in business, “mouth it” to others, but a vast majority of my time is spent coaching or raising awareness where an individual is emotionally caught up in the idea of justice for themselves at the expense of others.  In order for our profession to help people move out of this, we need to seriously check ourselves and be sure we too are able to, for example, not concern ourselves so much with our own self serving needs in ADR work, but making sure we can communicate and move others to follow our example and listen to and meet ethical needs of others.  I would say, and this is just a glimpse here, we are on the verge of being in a new “Ethical Age” and the dynamics and interactions between individuals up through world government is fascinating to observe; and given the moment of chance… advance to a more Ethical world.  If you really wanted to be in the right profession at the right time… it appears we are in the right place.

Happy New Year to everybody… from the heart.

Fig. A  The Mayan Calendar of Conscious Evolution of Earth


The “Incognito” Ombudsman: A Professional Development Exercise

16 July 2009

I am fully aware of my strengths and weaknesses and more importantly how a personality characteristic for forthright leadership, for example, can be useful in one professional role, but a weakness in another role.  The “trick” is to be aware and let oneself “switch roles” as appropriate, be able to consistently hold to that role and “temper” the skill or strength towards the goal or objective at hand on behalf of clients and not one’s own “interests”.  If you have the opportunity to do this, “practice” it, it can harmonize your strengths in that they won’t become an out of control “weakness” by applying them inappropriately.  It’s also empowering as the “new ombudsman” realizes they can achieve absolute control and mastery over emotions and “ego habits” that could interfere in ADR scenarios where “it’s not about us”, it’s about our client needs.  To the “outside” observer, if you are successfully “incognito”, they might perceive you as practicing “ombudsmanship” style conflict intervention techniques from a business management role for instance.  In “practical practice” this has the distinct advantage of resolving conflicts in an “undeclared informal structure” or process versus having participants become “resistant or intractable” to a formally declared intervention meeting.

The personal background to this is that I do enjoy leading from “the middle”.  In my overall business practice I am expected to provide insight, facts, data, opinions, solutions, experience, wisdom, leadership, best versus worst case scenarios and other attributes, woven and integrated into a document for decision makers.  These are always purposeful to achieve objectives and goals in my engagements and projects in collaboration with clients.  I have though, had to “watch myself” as I personally tend to “see the problem, identify the solution and then get anxious to communicate it”, which is good on one role, but NOT good in Ombudsman ADR and “self directed” negotiation and mediation scenarios.  This IS my weakness I’ve identified and have looked for the opportunity to “balance” it and get a “reign on the animal” in me about it.  Sometimes, this year, I’ve noticed I slip, but this latest opportunity I was successful at practicing it outside of a declared “informal” engagement.

I am a member of on-line communities and groups where I have relationships, collaborators, resources and friends.  Some know me personally, the vast majority only know my “handle” or pseudo ID.  In the last 2 weeks I’ve dropped in on “member posted threads” expressing dissatisfaction, dissent and discontent with a wide variety of issues from the employees boss or company, the melt down of the economy, privatization versus nationalization, to Bush vs Obama policy discussions, member “complaints” about each other and the moderator’s “failures” on the threads; and on it goes.  The moderators in this case actually “contribute” to the heated “polarization” expressing subjective opinions and clearly backed “factions” in the “thread debates” by “moderating” the “opposing opinions off the thread”, censoring speech thus resulting in “oppression and stifling” of “free speech”.  This last issue was getting very extremely heated and enraged some others to say the least.  Me, I’m not a “lurker”, but I do “practice what I preach” and never “inflame” or participate so as to polarize a discussion as a “participant” in the chaos.  For all of you out there who advocate that “conflict is good” and that it presents the opportunity to “engage” your skills, this is it, a way to “walk the talk”, apply our skills in genuine conflict, but without professional consequence.

So, I “incognito” began to step forward in the “threads” posting “neutral” statements and observations in apparent “opposition” to the moderator’s “authority”, my bad (smiles).  This really sparked them to “gang up” on me in the beginning, until I started asking them to “step back, this isn’t personal, remove their ego and subjectivity; and objectively take each ‘rule’ that posters were in violation of and apply it to ALL individuals”, equally and fairly.  I quickly looked around the “threads” and easily found dozens of violations of the posted policies, Terms of Service and “copy n’ pasted” them to the “current debate” with moderators.  This process was “openly visible” to all readers of the thread and moderators, to their credit, let the process unfold fairly without “censoring” my input.  I never disclosed my role, profession, who I am in reality.  I just saw the opportunity and began posting “points for fair and balanced analysis” for everyone, not just moderators.  Some individuals wanted to continue to “agitate” the situation, “taunted moderators”  and so I “intervened” and asked them to “self examine” their recent posts.  If someone were to say that to them using the “charged” language and tone they were projecting, “how would they take it?”.  Keep in mind here everyone was polite, there was not cussing, racism, “battle of the sexes” or other discriminatory “slanderous language” taking place.  People were focused on the points of the issues.  This is what I recognized as the “opportunity” to have good intervention, everyone was mature, it’s just they were passionate about beliefs and mostly, their favorite “political figure” over the other guys.  I participated for about 3 nights, reviewed a month of threads posts; “posted my findings” and for just over a week now, “the peace” has held.  (note: I wrote this article in late May 2009 and have held it till now to determine if the peace would hold and as of this 15th of July date it has, with only one major flare up mid June; however, this last week another “us vs. them” episode was handled with maturity, rational debate and cool emotions by dozens of individuals in the now “healthy debate” over degrees, credentialing, ethics, certification, licensing and other “regulating” practices.  Thus, it’s time to now post this as a “‘measure” of successful “ombudsmanship” methods some 10-11 weeks post intervention.)

So, I’m glad I had this chance to be “incognito” and be a “practice what I preach” Ombudsman not just in a formal role, but at all times.  In this instance I demonstrated to myself that I can  improve my ability to help others “self direct” and NOT bring my “strengths” inappropriately into a situation where it is not the ethical or best practice to “dictate the solution”.  How about you?  Are you “positioned neutrally” to get involved with or engage any social or business networks where you could practice ombudsmanship “incognito”?