Ombuds Practices: The Reach Out Initiatives

By Eliane Markoff
Ombuds - Bentley University

This reflection describes initiatives launched by my Ombuds Office to create a platform for faculty and staff to be empowered to address challenging situations in a timely and constructive manner. In addition, these initiatives create an infrastructure to proactively ensure practicing core values of collaboration and caring. The initiatives are referred to as Reach Out initiatives. The first initiative launched, Reach Out to Resolve a Conflict, outlined steps and best practices in addressing and resolving a conflict. 

The idea and inspiration came to me as I spoke with members of our community who wanted to resolve an issue or a conflict but were hesitant when too much time has passed or were a bit uncertain on the best way to proceed. During a dedicated week, members of our community were encouraged to reach out to those they have or had a conflict with.  Other initiatives focused on expressing appreciation, on apologizing and on requesting and providing constructive feedback.

The constructive feedback was a result of conversations I had with management, staff and faculty who wanted to help others with constructive feedback but were unsure on the best way to do it. I felt that other members of our community may face similar situations and may hopefully benefit from such a Reach Out initiative.

As expected, the Reach out initiative focusing on expressing appreciation was a result of conversations where people helped others, went out of their ways to do something for someone but were not acknowledged or thanked. Yes, we all want to help others on our own yet human nature makes us also want to be acknowledged and thanked.

The reach out initiative focusing on apologizing is primarily based on my experiences as mediator and as executive in the corporate world where I saw many cases where conflict escalated as a result of a past situation where someone did not apologize. I remember a few situations both as a mediator, and at Wheelock College and now at Bentley, where conflict could have been avoided if a simple not too painful apology had occurred in a timely manner.

I was fortunate to have been a former instructor at Bentley under the Management and Marketing Departments. I think it played a critical role in my feeling confident enough to be proactive and launch the Reach Out initiatives.

It is challenging for me to do so but sharing the participant feedback may help indicate the potential value these initiatives could bring to your communities. Below are sample comments received as a result the Reach Out initiatives. I omitted some details to ensure anonymity;

  • “Thank you for sending this email {Reach Out to apologize). I used it as the excuse to apologize for what happened last month; 
  • Thank YOU so much for your willingness to assist us with this difficult conversation. Your email was timely and I am hopeful that the relationship will continue to improve from here;
  • Thank you for the email and for all the advice and encouragement you gave me. Also, without your mediation today, I don’t think I could have got any positive results. Thank you;
  • Eliane, I like very much that you have a unique style, different from the previous Ombuds. Offering creative ways to reduce and avoid conflict is very important;
  • Thanks you so much, I very much enjoyed our chat and the email on apologizing. The article you wrote on apologizing I found particularly helpful;
  • You have made a positive and wonderful contribution to Bentley and we are lucky to have you here;
  • I can’t thank you enough for giving a new perspective.  Sometimes it just helps to talk to someone new and you have given a lot of things to think about over this long weekend.  I really appreciate it;
  • Thanks for an important and timely message on constructive feedback Eliane! I do encourage my team to give me feedback, push back on my ideas, but I know in reality it can be really challenging to do. I agree that I have learned the most from the most challenging relationships.”
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