What Really Happens at the Ombuds Office? | From the Ombuds

JUN. 19, 2023

In my most recent post, I talked a little about why I am shadowing folks around UNLV. I find immersing myself in other peoples’ workplace realities intellectually stimulating (there’s something invigorating about knowing with absolute certainty that you have the least relevant knowledge in the immediate area). What’s more, it helps me to better understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. And I do sincerely feel that if we spent more time with each other, we would probably get along better, and be able to more easily resolve issues when we didn’t.

Which is why it’s a bit disappointing that, for many people on campus, the work of the Ombuds Office remains a mystery.

Part of that is because of the confidential nature of the office—in order to remain compliant with the International Ombuds Association’s Standards of Practice, we are forbidden from sharing who comes to the office, and what they do there. But the other reason is a less-than-perfect idea of what an ombuds does. That’s entirely understandable, since the ombuds profession is relatively young, and there are several varieties of ombuds, some doing very different things.

For the most part (when I’m not spending time watching other people work or helping out), I do two things: run group workshops and meet with people one-on-one. The group workshop part isn’t so mysterious. I talk a little about a conflict resolution concept and guide people through interactive exercises to help demonstrate that concept, imparting knowledge and skills.

But what goes on when no one else is watching, down the stairs in FDH?

Usually, most one-on-one consultations go like this. You’ll ring the bell. Tifara Rachal, the Ombuds Office Program Manager, will answer the door and warmly greet you. She’ll probably ask if you have already filled out our anonymous intake form, which collects non-identifiable general demographic data. If you haven’t, she will queue up our laptop so you can. If you already have, or are a repeat visitor, she’ll take you right in to see me.

Once we’re sitting down together (assuming we haven’t met before), I’ll briefly summarize a few salient points about the Ombuds Office (namely, that everything we talk about is confidential, except if someone discloses the imminent risk of serious harm, and that telling me something does not constitute giving UNLV formal notice) before asking you about yourself, and not your issue.

I like to learn more about the people who visit the office as, well, people because it is important. They aren’t a concern or a problem to be solved. They are members of this community who might be frustrated, uncertain, or even scared. But that’s just what’s going on with them today. That’s not how I want them to define themselves.

After learning about who they are, I’ll ask what brings them to my office, and then I’ll listen for ten, twenty, or forty minutes—however long they want to talk. While most meetings last an hour, if neither of us has anything else scheduled, I’m more than happy to extend our consultation. The important thing is that everyone gets a chance to talk about what’s bothering them.

Often, I’ll ask some clarifying questions, and will reflect back a few things you’ve said to make sure I’ve understood it correctly. And when you’ve fully explained what has brought you to the office and what you would like to see happen, we’ll discuss options.

I find it interesting that a good number of visitors to the office believe, when they walk in, that they have no options. Almost always, though, that’s not the case, and talking about what might or might not work helps them better appreciate the situation they are in and more completely see what a good resolution might look like. For interpersonal issues, we’ll usually spend some time thinking about what the other person’s good resolution might look like and explore whether there might be some common ground. To answer process-related questions, Tifara or I might print out the requisite section of the Nevada Administrative Code, NSHE Board of Regents Handbook, or other appropriate document. Rather than trusting me to tell you what the policy is, you will have a copy of the policy yourself.

After we’ve discussed options and potential next steps, the consultation usually wraps up. Depending on where you are in the process, we might set a time to meet again.

As a reminder, here’s a few things that won’t happen: First, outside of the narrow exception for the risk of serious harm, what you tell me won’t be repeated to anyone. Second, I won’t tell you what to do—even if you ask me to. As a neutral third party, I can offer some prospective on a situation. I can even cite pertinent policies and guidelines. But, as much as I listen, I can’t know everything you know, and I can’t tell you what’s going to work best for you. And I won’t tell you what I would do, since I’m not the one we’re talking about: you are. Third, there won’t be any record of what we talked about. I don’t take notes of my meetings, which is a best practice aimed at maintaining confidentiality.

In short, you’ll spend about an hour—maybe more, maybe less—talking about yourself and how you might be happier at UNLV. You give up no rights and initiate no actions. I am bound by professional ethics and personal accountability to remain silent about our conversation, so there is no risk. As far as the rest of the university is concerned, you might as well have been spending that hour talking with an imaginary friend.

So, no matter who you are, if you aren’t as happy as you would like here, a visit to the Ombuds Office might be a good idea. Whether you are a student, faculty member, or other UNLV employee, the Ombuds Office has many resources available to help you through any conflict or communication issue you might be facing. If you are having an issue and are uncertain where to go, it is an excellent zero-barrier first stop. You have nothing to lose and quite a bit to gain.

If you would like to talk off-the-record and confidentially about any work- or campus-related concern, please make an appointment with the Ombuds. Our door is always open.

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