What does an ombuds do?
4 conflict-resolution principles from MSU Denver’s new ombuds, Barbara Beatty.
April 23, 2018
Ombuds – it’s a funny word but a crucial conflict-resolution service for Metropolitan State University of Denver.
“The fundamental purpose for the Ombuds Office is to provide a safe place for people to come and resolve conflict at the lowest level,” said Barbara Beatty, University ombuds.
The ombuds role originated in 18th-century Sweden and made its way to the United States in the mid-20th century. Today, an ombuds – from a Swedish word meaning “agent” – is involved in communication strategies, coaching and facilitating conversations on a neutral ground, ensuring that people are heard and respected, and finding ways to reduce conflict between co-workers or employees and supervisors.
“Like Mount St. Helens, things can start slipping,” Beatty said. “If you don’t do anything, conflict can manifest and blow its top. It’s important to deal with issues before we break relationships, quit our jobs or become locked in our points of view.”
The four principles of an organizational ombuds (the kind at MSU Denver) are:
- Confidentiality: The highest standard; visitors are always in control of their information (except if there’s imminent danger to self or others). “I don’t talk to anyone without permission or even acknowledge that I’ve seen the visitor,” Beatty said.
- Impartiality: As a trained neutral and credentialed mediator, Beatty is an advocate for fair process. “I do not make decisions for someone or advocate for specific individuals – instead, we’ll brainstorm possible actions a visitor might want to pursue,” she said.
- Informality: Ombuds are not mandated reporters of Title IX, sexual harassment and other federally or state-mandated laws. They also do not file grievances or get involved in formalized processes. “It’s not my job to report,” Beatty said. “Rather, it’s about giving people options and skills to resolve their issues.”
- Independence: Organizationally, the Ombuds Office reports to the President’s Office, with a direct line to the president – who is interested in broad institutional trends and areas for improvement (instead of individual names or departments).
Services include seeing individuals, facilitating meetings, leading group discussions on topics such as team-building and conflict resolution, and customized training.
For Beatty, previously the ombuds at the University of Idaho and an alternative dispute-resolution professional in other positions, helping people learn a variety of communication strategies to resolve conflict is more than a job – it’s a calling.
“I’m excited to be here, and, if you’re curious, I invite anyone who is interested to either stop by my office in Central Classroom 306, call me at 303-615-2080 (office), 720-278-9746 (work cell) or email me to discuss how to develop your ‘B.I.F.F.’ strategy for dealing with high-conflict situations,” she said. “Everyone needs a B.I.F.F.”