An Ombuds Is like a Band-Aid...

By Hans Kohler, Conflict Resolution Specialist and Ombuds

I was recently talking with one of the owners of a company that I have been contracted to work with, and he was asking me about the benefits of hiring an ombuds. Besides all of the regular and most common questions, he unexpectedly asked, “If you would have to make an analogy about being an ombuds, what would that be?”  

My answer was quite simple: an ombuds is like a Band-Aid.

I imagine that many of my ombuds colleagues are frowning...screaming...yelling "Say what?”… and so on. I still stand by my analogy -- being an ombuds is like being a Band-Aid. If this analogy makes you think of a Band-Aid as a treatment for symptoms instead of causes, take a step back and see the multiple utilities of it. I hope to show you how this Band-Aid analogy in a way that is creative and unconventional.

A primary function of ombuds is to make others feel safe, open, and willing to change and evolve. As ombuds, we have a very important role, which is not accessed as much as it should be. This is either because people don’t know what an ombuds’ role actually is or because people maintain the ignorant, old mentality of "Why fix it if it’s not broken?" For me, the most important role of an ombuds is to prevent conflicts from happening, not to fix them when they arise. Yet, I feel as though I am getting into that “fixer” role more often than not. How about you?

Hence, the Band-Aid analogy. We are just like Band-Aids that we put on our feet after buying new shoes. We are the Band-Aid that prevents the blister from happening, allows us to keep pushing forward, and protects us from harm. When we use a Band-Aid, we have the ability to walk around, show off our shoes, and stay productive all day. Moreover, by preventing a blister, we will be comfortable next time we wear a pair of shoes.

How is that related to the ombuds profession? As the Band-Aid, ombuds prevent conflicts from arising or escalating, which makes people feel confident and at ease as they do their best and move forward. We help companies and organizations show off their employees’ productivity, happiness, and determination to come to work. Moreover, the ombuds, like the Band-Aid, may make people uncomfortable in the moment while trying to prevent conflicts (or blisters), but in the long run, we make the entire system work more effectively and fairly.

After I told the owner of the company my analogy, he looked at me and said, “I went out without putting on Band-Aids before, and certainly I got really hurt and uncomfortable. Now I am smarter and the Band-Aid will be there, as my ombuds.”

Whenever companies realize how much harm "blisters" can cause, they will start opening more ombuds offices.


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Comments on "An Ombuds Is like a Band-Aid..."

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Jim Augustine - Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Thanks Hans for this helpful insight. I have always found William Ury’s story of the man who leaves his herd of 17 camels to his three sons as their inheritance. With no solution in sight the sons seek the help of an ombuds who resolves the dilemma by loaning her camel (the 18th camel) to the sons and then goes on her way with her camel.

Dr. Mary P. Rowe - Thursday, March 28, 2019

Hi Hans, With very warm respect for bandaids, (you were quick on your feet) I am even happier about the question you brought back to us. (What are the metaphors for the OO?). /// A very astute colleague recently got me thinking about my image of myself as an OO. May I add this query to yours? Their question was "am I a leader?" Do we think of ourselves as leaders? I fell back on "catalyst." And of course "zero barrier office." And "pest." We know too little about what OOs actually do and what we think we do. I will take your question to the Conference...:):) Thank you

Mark H. Patterson - Friday, March 22, 2019

Thanks, Hans. I'm always looking for new ways to explain ombuds work without falling back on the word "conflict" or a recitation of the standards.

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