The New Ombudsperson and The Quantum Activist

17 April 2011

In my own practice as a “progressive and innovative” Ombuds I listen for and “observe” my clients for opportunities to “transcend” or move their awareness beyond “duality, polarization and ego” so as to create the opportunity for a solution to their issue or conflict.  I don’t always get the opportunity to do this.  Indeed, I have used the “Matrix” movies as examples on occasion with clients so as to open their mind to the reality that “life is a drama” being played out and that we can make choices in a moment outside of societal conditioning and traditional approaches (legal).  I propose to them that when “conflict arises” it signals the opportunity to learn something; and personally and possible “grow and evolve” beyond the given paradigm they are in especially if they are in a repeating pattern.  I may also suggest reading material or other “media” if the client appears to be open to it and it’s fitting.  Thus, The Quantum Activist now also provides insight to the dynamics of life, creation, conflict and mention how a “mediator’ is needed from the “science” side of the mysticism and metaphysical “coin” of life and our existence in the Universe.

Amit Goswami PhD is The Quantum Activist. He discusses the subject of Quantum Mechanics and sprinkles his words of wisdom through out the film on topics relevant to “us” as Ombuds.  He speaks to conflict, need for mediation, duality, cycles of creation and pauses between cycles of conflict that do provide the opportunities for changing oneself and the world at the same time.

It’s my hope that you will view this film and that it will provided a “higher perspective” of awareness so as to keep us from possibly getting caught up in or even becoming “part of the problem” in our work rather than neutral, truly independent and suggesting solutions for both sides of the table with clients.  This is “empowering” of us to “enable” clients in their choices.

Keeping this post short, very busy nowadays as the economy struggles along, but I think this is an insightful and inspiring documentary pointing to the “high ground” our profession can take… above and beyond “man’s laws” and more in line with Universal Laws of Creation that acknowledge the cycles and CHOICES for harmony or chaos.  Enjoy.

On Netflix here:

http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/The_Quantum_Activist/70138491?trkid=496624

Website: http://www.QuantumActivist.com

YouTube Trailer here:


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.


Ombudsperson ADR: “Lofty Idealist” & the “Real World” of an OO

9 May 2010

“Lofty Idealist”, do you know this person?  I do.  I love this guy/girl especially when I all of a sudden recognize them in our communications about the profession; there are a lot of us out there I’ve discovered… nice.  They are honest to the core, well intentioned at all times, take a practical approach to difficult situations, keep with an open mind and display a sort of naive’ innocence, hold to the highest of ethics and values as best they can; all the while knowing that at any moment “reality bites”.  To help you spot them as an Ombudsman ADR leader they could be left-handed, you might notice their prescription “rose colored glasses”, some volume of We The People: A Guide to Sociocratic Principles and Methods on their bedroom nightstand, framed along side their degrees are Ethics and Standards “reminders” on the wall; and as you enter their office restroom, a abstract picture of Don Quixote thrusting a windmill is over the “throne”.  If you bump into them it will be in a coffee shop /  book store, community event or non-profit project where they know they can apply their skills and serve others incognito if needed.  If you get the chance to brunch with them you’ll notice a person firmly committed to their ideals, polite, attentive, altruistic about others in conversation and constantly pointing out “right from wrong” in the polarized paradigms of culture and society on each sub-topic of contemporary society in the conversation.  They also never complain or become a part of the problem, rather, recognize it’s important to stay “independent” so they can provide a solution and communicate it like “magic”.  Rarely do they “rage against the machine” because they realize they are within “six degrees of separation”, we are “all One” in the world.  They make the best of their position be it working from the “inside out” in a large entity they know is not perfect, or from the “outside in”, not polarizing and judging, but embracing conflict towards peaceful goals for all.  They live and breath it… don’t they?  They also know to take each day… one day at a time and that it’s okay to leave it undone for the moment if “loved one” needs them… tomorrow arrives soon enough.  Wise, ethical, inclusive and patient with everyone is this Lofty Idealist.

In the “real world” of disputes and conflicts Lofty Idealist “leads by example” at all times and is “collaborative” with all callers and email from “seekers of truth and justice” knowing “in the moment” that such lofty perspectives are relevant to each individuals perspective.  Lofty is a skilled communicator able to “cut to the core” issue as presented from one side of the table and where inequities are detected, provide counsel so as to enlighten or transform the “victim’s” mentality and/or perspective.

Lofty also knows in today’s economy the time required to do intake and analysis far exceeds most client’s bank balances and they negotiate fees based on their altruistic excesses resulting in a ratio of open cases over successes on formalized terms agreements.  The reality faced by Lofty, given the volume of disputes and conflict thrown at them, is that they can serve more people doing ODR than in person.  They are flexible in their business model and dispute resolution procedure by allowing sessions to flow into asymmetrical conflict or dispute coaching if they can’t get the other side to follow the 3rd C, cooperation, which is the true reality a majority of the time.  They are loyal and relentless with their client via empathetic and neutral sentence formulation and terminology so as to provide salve for the “internal conflict” the client often experiences.

There’s more to Lofty Idealist than is discussed here or than “meets the eye”, but you get the idea.  As time passes, and this will take decades no doubt, Lofty is like a soothing rush of a stream over the “rocks of ages”, gently shaping and changing culture and society one moment at a time, one day at a time, one client at a time.  In the same vein, Lofty has turned the loneliness of the profession into a pillar of solitude and strength so as to muster and prepare for the next “noble” encounter.  When given the chance, Lofty is more interested in communicating out in the “real world” at open community meetings about Ombudsperson ADR, non-legal informal methods and the “whys” of it all; rather than with “vertically aligned” peers or entities where “preaching to the choir” is of little innovative value to those we serve.

Finally, if Lofty Idealist “vibrates” with you as to how and where the profession is unfolding I’d say just let yourself “slip out of the box” and take the facts and constraints you face and have the courage to “paradigm shift” them yourself.   There’s no “right or wrong” about this, it’s about identifying what needs changed, proposing that solution, working it ad infinitum and then simply doing your absolute best work with all involved.  What I’ve noticed many times is you won’t get personal validation for you or your client… but all of a sudden “miracles can happen” and policy, rules, exceptions or “gaps” are changed… it’s subtle when it happens… keep alert out there.


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”?


Ombudsman ADR: The 6 C’s Of Sociocratic Peace Building

1 March 2009

Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying, “Democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%” (circa 1801-1809). Indeed, if you get into “our” history not all the “fathers” of our nation were in favor of a two party system.  The two party process assures consolidation and massing of large polarized groups of people that can argue into perpetuity.  If you look at the world, there are pockets of “democratic structures of government”, but without the two party system.  One example, is the Nunavut Provence of Canada.  They use a plebiscite form of government to form their new territory in 1999, successfully breaking away from the 5 party system.  These First Nation indigenous people are wise indeed.  Their plebiscite elected council represents all people in the territory and council members represent them in Canada’s Crown Government.  They use a self governing process where council representatives “facilitate” consensus on issues the “peace pipe by the fire” way and then take their vote to the Crown and vote with the other 5 parties on national issues.  Today, in America, there are “pockets” of this at the “micro-society” level where we work, worship and organize as community members.  It’s a Sociocratic process without “two parties”.  A Sociocracy is a system of government where all interests of all people are served equally through the process of consensus to consent.  The idea of polarized two party (or 5 party) debate is removed.  Indeed, the energy industry in America, by example, is experiencing this form of self government at the local level where their pipelines run through Native American lands and local American communities.

Ombudspersons can use this Sociocratic process with polarized individuals or with small groups or teams, say in study groups, committees, matrix structured  teams, councils and even between any multiple entities with groups of representatives gathered to resolve conflict through the application of ADR methods and practices.  The 6 C’s are used only in sequential order before proceeding to the next C.  They are:

  1. Communication – if there is no parity or communication is asymmetrical among members to the conflict, this very often, my experience, is the simplest form of an issue or conflict and is easily solvable through quality communication.  In this discussion, if we don’t have communication and it breaks down, all other C’s abort the Sociocratic process and you start over.  It’s at this first C stage there has usually been an ongoing and slow “surfacing of an issue” and emotions are the catalyst to “outing” the complaint.  If sequential iterations of applying ADR methods and the 6 C’s fails, arbitration and litigation are other options and thus the “dispute” escalates to polarized “conflict” and outside the ombudsman’s purview.  Key to successful communication is to hold to the 5th principle of empathetic communication: “seek first to understand then to be understood”.  I find “conflicted people” often “get it” and this breaks open deadlocks.
  2. Complaint – take the issue or complaint from all individuals or group members.  You could have a situation where a team of 6 is split into two groups of three, three groups of two or any combination.  Process the complaint with a complaint form from each individual will provide the ombudsman “perspective”.  Conventional two party complaints are also successful under this Sociocratic self governance model.
  3. Cooperation – as the ombudsman gathers information and identifies parties they move everyone to agree to mediate and to cooperate.  This should be in line with established formal procedures of the ombudsman function or office and parties to the “agreed upon conflict” should sign off on the “cooperation agreement” or mediation agreement.  I find taking the legal terms out of facilitation helps cooperation because it removes the “programmed cultural threat” of litigation.
  4. Consensus – the new form of consensus building is where ALL members, stakeholders or parties involved are moved by the ombudsman to formulate their solution to the issue or complaint.  Take “due care” not to fall back into the old form of “forced consensus by majority vote” of a polarized democratic process.  This will leave people “unresolved” that have interest in the outcome.  Consensus requires the most time and patience from the ombudsman and the capacity to utilize all methods of psychology to move people to “focus on their common interests” and over time “forget” or “re-frame” their “points of conflict”.  You are seeking “unanimous consent” structured around goals or solutions stemming from the original written complaint forms.  If you didn’t properly analyze the complaint or the group or parties “shift focus” to other “points of conflict”, you’ll have to start over at this step and re-communicate from the beginning the issue or complaint at hand.  The very last and important key factor is the proposed, negotiated or resolved solution must be in compliance with superceding organization, corporate, government or other entity with legal authority over the parties involved.  If not, it could be that changes in, by example, the corporation’s policies in relation to formulating contracts needs revised.
  5. Consent – Once the ombudsman reaches the point where “rounds” of discussion result in “behavioral confirmation” ie. body language, verbal affirmations and other signals of uniformity, then you can “call the question” asking does “anyone object”.  If favorable, I recommend you write their self negotiated solution out in a memo, terms of agreement, amendment to a team, committee or council charter, or other formal document that everyone signs off on.  The chairman, team leader, project manager or anyone that is a party to the process can also write out the negotiated points and solution to everyone’s satisfaction, but it’s important they read and sign off on it.  Experience shows verbal agreements with no historical “back up” position will not be a successful “conclusion” in the long term.
  6. Coordination – is the final step where the ombudsman, after the agreement is completed, has a “closure” meeting and communicates that continued focus on the terms in the agreement and observable coordination in daily interactions is the proof that everyone really agrees.  The 6th C of coordination carries the connotation “we all cooperated and came to an agreement, now we act and behave daily under our agreed terms”.  If a lack of coordination in the activities of the team, council, committee or whatever “breaksdown”, they can “self govern” and remind themselves of the terms.  If though, in the end, there is sometimes one person that just will not conform and this is causing harm or wasting resources towards the economic or social “good”, they should be asked to leave the group and find a replacement or if it’s several individuals, it may have to then proceed to arbitration or litigation.  Ask that person(s) to cooperate and decide what they want to do.

I have used this process in what I call an “undeclared” facilitation structure when in business process applications.  I mostly use it on a “preemptive” basis as I can now recognize a problem forming between “polarities” in early stages of development.  For “informal” ombudsman procedures you can “name” this form of ADR however you wish, as long as it fits the group and their culture.  By example, there may be, in a religious application, a religious council term for church groups you can adopt in a “community ombudsman” role or if they are perhaps a business team assigned to a project, simply call it a “dispute management” team meeting.  And now, within this context, think of what might be the possibility in America with a procedure to self govern, to solve issues and disputes without feeling a need to join a side and fight from a point of narcissistic greed, ego-centric entitlement and my rights over others rights?  Rather keep focus on the economic or socially desired outcome to the benefit of the many, respecting all individuals and living in peace.  Hmm…


The Chinese Finger Puzzle: A Metaphor for Ombuds

16 February 2009

chinese_finger_trapWhen I was a young boy I had my first experience with a Chinese Finger Puzzle or Chinese Finger Trap as some people call it.  You too may have had a frustrating experience with this deceptive “toy”.  My experience, as best I can recall, was when my uncle gave one to me for my birthday.  He presented this colorful woven tube to me and said, “go ahead, put your finger in it”.  I hesitated and know now there was a smile of intrigue on my face at the time.  Trusting my uncle, as children all instinctively trust adults around them, I went ahead and put my finger deep into the puzzle; not like in the photo above where she is less than “half way committed” and only to the first joint of her finger.  I inserted my whole finger all the way to the third joint where the finger meets the hand.  To make a long story short I spent a significant amount of time trying to wrestle the trap off my finger.  The other end was open, no one put their finger in with mine and I at least had sense not to put a finger from my other hand into the hole on the other side of the puzzle.  The adults “left me that way” for some time, though it seemed like forever, most likely it was just minutes, but I wondered why they were doing this with me.  Indeed, an ombudsman may get a visit from people who wonder what others intentions are with them, but in much more serious “realities” .

As ombuds we are sometimes sought after to resolve situations that people unwittingly find themselves inextricably involved in.  These situations vary widely in the types and forms of relationships, but it’s always ‘polarized’ and the complainant didn’t understand what was really happening until it was too late.  Often I’ve heard descriptions from people who became a ‘polarity’ in a situation, not by choice, but simply because someone else CREATED AN ISSUE with them for reasons unknown.  In such situations, once they recognize they are “part of the conflict” by someones “declaration”, it’s of no use to just declare their innocence, they have no choice anymore but to work it through.   The Chinese Finger Puzzle in this case can be a serious accusation in life nowadays.  Situations such as accusations of sexual assault, date rape, child abuse, physical abuse or bullying, verbal assaults and other very “stigmatizing” scenarios.  Ombuds have to be very cautious in such circumstances, follow procedure and not be too quick to discount their “visitors” claim to innocence.  It may be wise to bring in the “team” in your office or colleagues in your function to keep perspective, investigate and collect facts.  There are, more and more, individuals out there who know how to “manipulate the system” and use the law to harass, take revenge or “strike the first blow” in a dispute without resorting to physical violence.  This is where the legal system is used in open warfare and once a police report is filed the “puzzle is a trap” and one needs help to resolve it.

I didn’t know how to get that Chinese Finger Puzzle off of me.  The adults around me had “fun” with me that day, I wasn’t really harmed in any way, but I was distressed the whole time wondering, trying different things and picking and pulling at the puzzle.  The solution came from someone who had previous experience with the puzzle because my uncle had tried it on her first, my aunt.  She invited me over to her, took the “toy” and forced it deeper onto my finger and I yelled, “no, don’t put it on me more” or something like this.  She calmed me, told me to watch, and the toy opened up as she pressed it forward towards my hand.  She then “pinched” the tube so has to hold it firm, not let it relax, and then said, “now slowly pull and twist your finger out”.  She explained that if she were to try to pull it off my finger, it wouldn’t come off, all she could do is hold it still and keep it open until I freed myself.

As ethical and courageous ombuds we may well have to be or have already had to act in a similar fashion for our complainants.  Keep communication open, promote mutual support, be in it with them for the long haul in such serious situations and bring the team together to sustain the process.  As the investigation proceeds and facts bear out the truth, provide counseling so as to assist with the learning process and how to possibly avoid similar “traps” in the future.  If their “innocence” is established, they may need us to support and guide them out of the puzzle, clear their name, regain their innocence from false claims and restore what they can of their life.  Given their permission, we should not hesitate to formulate a written statement of findings to help with the aftermath of the situation.  If the whole ombudsman office team is involved, pretty soon everyone becomes an expert Chinese Finger Puzzle resolver.


Ombudsman… S t r e t c h i n g The Meaning

31 January 2009

It’s been a very busy week.  Ironically I did observe some interesting “beliefs” from multiple individual sources.  For me, I don’t know about you, this means the “Universe” is trying to tell me something.  I paid attention to what everyone wrote and said during the weeks communications;  and then I began to think like “an Ombudsman’s Ombudsman” or what  a “true Ombudsman” would neutrally observe looking at the situation.  A lot came from this and I pulled my resources and research, to “be sure”; and what I’m about to set forth here could “polarize peers” in the profession, no doubt.

We’ve all heard it, “give a hammer to a carpenter and they’ll find something to hammer”.  The American Bar Association (ABA) has been contributing “meaning and definition” to the “ombudsman” word meaning since about 1961 and more recently the association put forth a “resolution” on “dispute resolution” and to embrace the term “ombudsman” as a part of the legal profession.  Like the carpenter, they define the ombudsman practice using “lawyer speak”, which is, in my opinion, NOT an ombudsman.  They classify 3 basic types of ombudsmen complete with definitions: classical ombudsman, organizational ombudsman and advocate ombudsman.  They then move towards “positioning” lawyers to have jurisdiction and final authority over ombudsmen and ombudsman offices with “judicial and administrative” consequences if the ombudsman acts out of “omission or commission” or knowledge of their “clients” acts in relation to the  law.  It’s at this point I began to think about “the truth” versus “truthiness” and the subtle yet “biting” words used in their “resolution”.  It is at this point, of most importance, how many people needing a “voice”, perhaps emotionally upset, seeking trusted assistance  only to discover their ombudsman is an ABA member (bound to professional oath) and silently moves to being in an “administrative discharge” role over their violations.  Now flip the coin again (or other edge of the sword, your choice).  What if the same mediator violates their oath, recognizes their “true” ombudsman role and fails to provide “notice” to their “reporting authority”?  Wow.  It is at this point that literally years of debate could begin, no doubt might,  especially in “blurring of the lines” between legal mediation versus ombudsman mediation; and a true ombudsman’s role outside of judicial and formal administrative channels.  Remember how to use that hammer please.  And what about the original concept of ombudsmanship and the capacity to solve disputes WITHOUT legal formality?  Don’t hit your thumb…

If you can’t tell by now I do not possess a Juris Doctorate.  My background is in corporate, business and organizational development with degrees in business and the social/behavioral sciences.  By my “nature” I’ve even “mediated” relationships since Junior High, doing the right thing and losing that chance with “her” because she came to me, trusted me, “opened up” in confidence with me; and was interested in my best friend, not me.   Many times I’ve played an “ombudsman’s role” during engagements because as a consultant one is never really fully 100% a part of “either side of the table” in a business project and we want to prevent “barriers” from forming by helping seek “middle ground” in negotiations and for the common economic good as an outcome.  Admittedly, it’s just been the last 3 months that I’ve formally declared my ombudsman services as a part of my consulting practice; yet fully aware I now cannot “straddle the fence” and once committed to a role, I must stay that course.

I tend to hold to the founding matriarch’s position of the ombudsman profession, Mary Rowe PhD, that individuals that elect to “trust” and engage an ombudsman will have the same confidentiality as a “patient and physician” relationship.  Her descriptions and discussion over the decades are more like an “organizational psychologist” terminology not an arbitrator saying they are a mediator (look up the meaning for clarity).  We do not take steps to “document” to possibly build a case or conduct investigations subtly advocated by the ABA.  We take a more “informal” approach and method relying on ethics, morals, integrity, honesty, trust and “doing the right thing” with relation to policies, procedures, charters, agreements, memorandums and compliance.  Our methods are to “neutralize” not plan for an eventual “plaintiff and defendant” adjudication.  There is no “due process” only “due care” for an ombudsman.  We don’t speak to “legal charters”, but to “terms of reference” as the guidelines an ombuds office complies with.  We do not speak of “jurisdiction and authority”, but of “informal procedures” to handle an “inquiry” before “legal methods” are needed due to escalations in disputes, conflicts and possibly violence.  And, there is much more, many more “differentiators” here.

One of the “triggering” moments this last week was a discussion with the head of a HR department in a huge energy conglomerate.  They replied back with full “letter head”, the string of acronyms behind their name certifying their professional status  and detailed contact information (phone extension), so I took this as an “invitation” (not a dare) and replied to their reply to my request.  The bottom line from discussion was that they did not need an ombudsman office or ombudsman because internal corporate counsel had an ombudsman program in place for their employees and stakeholders.  This office was located on the same floor as the C-level executives, that’s right, on premises and, I don’t know this as fact, but you probably have to walk through the same door as you would to “serve papers” if in a “polarized” legal relationship with the company.  Contrast this with a university ombudsman office usually located off campus and away from “administrative” offices.   This instantly reminded me of the Inspector Generals Office when I served  in the Air Force, located immediately adjacent to the Base and Wing Commander’s offices, how could anyone “get in” without being noticed?  Are these examples of what an “ombudsman is” today and the structure of the profession; embedded and overlapping functions, no independence yet applying “the word”?

There is a “calling” now (petition) for President Obama to open an Ombudsmans Cabinet and Offices.  This is a good idea.  The Gordian Knot will be the challenge to “our” profession as it is linked to the legal profession and the continuing “bias” of a “nation built on laws” that are used to “keep order” for constituents and are “ignored” by lobbyists, the wealthy and the powerful.  These new laws that are being written are to do “battle” between polarized groups at the moment (federal government versus global free market capitalists), but are ignored by the individuals that are the “bridges” between “cabinet appointments” from the financial power elite free market business sectors and the “regulatory offices” of the Federal Government.  These are the same professionals that open the way for becoming a “leader of the people and their will” and that wrote the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 legislation only to ignore it and let the financial services industry executives consolidate, hold funds to enhance balance sheets and shareholder value.  The same companies that pay 18 billion in bonuses for 2008, snubbing the law by “looping” around the legislated restrictions; and to “retain the talent we need to get us out of this mess” yet they are the same one’s that created the financial products and instruments that made the mess.  The ombudsman profession is needed now, has a noble opportunity as “A VOICE OF REASON”, to remind our representatives they wrote laws that apply to all, not just some of the people; and that more “judicial action” will cost time, waste even more taxpayer money created from thin air by the FED and not resolve the economic disaster we are in.  I see ombudsmen in a position to bring back the virtues our forefather’s gave us in the Bill of Rights and Constitution, so wisely, but our leaders forget day to day.

Now… what will it be?  Let’s all be true to the “word” and “meaning”, altruistic and serve with integrity, “do the right thing” and as we are called upon to be, when asked.  Leave out the legal definitions and “cornering” of  “our” profession by professional legal associations that govern legal practices and move towards a true and independent “virtuous” ombudsman professional practice.