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Warm Thoughts from the IOA President

By Marcia Martínez-Helfman, IOA President 2018-2020

My first thought when I woke this morning was that I should be heading to the airport to fly to Portland and the IOA’s 15th Annual Conference. The Foundations Course would have already been underway.  I’d be preparing for our Board of Directors meeting on Saturday and Sunday, and excited that the Conference itself would be underway beginning Sunday night.  I will truly miss the camaraderie, learning, sharing, and just plain socializing with you all.

Today, I return to my home office aka the dining table after taking time to plot and execute a strategy for replenishing my refrigerator and pantry.  My son, recently back from London and self-isolating, stood at the curb to pick up the groceries I brought to him as I waved from my car.  These unprecedented times have touched all of us, across the globe, in small and great ways.  Too much suffering continues, and many lives continue to be lost.

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A Couple of (Un)traditional Conflict Resolving Methods

By Reese Ramos, University Ombuds at Virginia Tech, IOA Board Member

As the IOA Annual Conference in Portland, Oregon approaches, I was reminded about how Portland got its name (and no, it wasn’t named Portland because it is a port). Apparently, Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrow, who both owned the claim to the land that would become Portland, wanted to name the new town after their respective hometowns of Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine. They couldn’t agree who should name this new town, but they did agree to flip a coin. After two of three coin-toss wins took place, Portland became the town’s new name after Francis Pettygrow’s hometown. When I first heard this story, I got a kick out of it thinking about what might have happened if these two had had a facilitator. Port Boston perhaps?

And how did coin-flipping become a method for resolving conflict?

Coin flipping began eons ago and the story goes that Julius Caesar, dictator of the Roman Republic, would intervene in serious litigations and render a decision. If he was not available to arbitrate, then a flip of the coin (which contained a rendering of his head) would take place. The belief was that the gods would decide the outcome, and Caesar, in absentia, concurred with whichever party called “navia aut caput” (ship or heads). And so Portlanders, in a way, can thank Julius Caesar for creating the process that helped two landowners resolve their conflict.

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Tensions & Progress in the IOA

By Mary Bliss Conger, Ed.D.

There is a lot to like about volunteering with IOA. First on the list is the collegiality, followed closely by myriad opportunities to learn, collaborate, and help shape the future of the ombud world. However, as an involved IOA volunteer, I’ve often been taken aback by how hard it is to get things done in this organization at times. This remark may seem harsh, but I sincerely offer it more as perplexed observation than sour complaint. Why, given the abundance of talent, good will, and motivation pulsing through IOA’s volunteer corps, is it so tough to see and feel progress sometimes?

Don’t get me wrong: It’s been a banner year for IOA--much has gotten done. A new management company, a public relations campaign, a new website, a new ED, a record-breaking conference, and more. Plenty of good work is happening. Even so, my experience these past six years has been that getting things done with IOA often feels harder--somehow more fraught, more confusing--than it needs to be. 

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Conference Highlights: Asia Pacific RAC in Manila

By Fred Wright and Sophia Qiao, AP-RAC Co-Chairs

The AP-RAC (Asia Pacific Regional Advisory Committee) held its 4th annual conference in Manila from 16-18 October 2019. Sixteen members and two guests were warmly and generously hosted by the Office of the Ombudsperson of the Asia Development bank (ADB).  

Wayne Blair, Ombudsperson, ADB together with his colleagues Gigi Alejandro, Arlene Pantua and Erson Palermo created a comprehensive and stimulating agenda dealing with a range of important contemporary issues confronting Omuds practitioners in the Asia Pacific Region.

Over the course of three days, participants dealt with sexual harassment in organisations (facilitated by Lily Xu, United Technologies); the ombuds' relationship with formal processes (Wayne Blair, ADB); the challenges of working in geographically dispersed and multicultural environments (Caroline Wanyonyi and Faye Antolin, International Committee of the Red Cross); and about the importance of personal and professional development through a regular, structured supervision program that supports ethical and reflective practice (Fred Wright, Govt of Victoria). Herb Waye, Ombudsman for  the Internet Corporation for assigned Numbers and Names, also facilitated an interesting and contemporary session about online dispute resolution; Gurmeet Kaur, Head Ombudsperson for Home Credit India, discussed the ombud’s roles around the evolving dynamics of Indian women’s empowerment.

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An ombuds... What? The challenge of bringing ombuds magic to Argentina

By Jacqueline Berzon, former corporate lawyer, current mediator and aspiring ombuds

How do you sell a service that nobody knows? How do you sell a service without being able to demonstrate its positive results? How do you sell a service nobody thinks is needed? How do you sell a service no one has experienced before? It is hard.

My name is Jackie Berzon. I'm 43 and I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I am a mother of two boys, a spouse, a lawyer, a mediator, an organizational coach, a foodie (this is not a minor detail!) and lately a lunatic promoter of the the organizational ombuds role in Argentina.

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How Inclusivity and Accountability Advance IOA

By Elisa V. Enriquez, LCSW,CO-OP ®, Senior Associate Ombudsman, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Chair, IOA Membership Committee

The International Ombudsman Association (IOA) was established in 2005 with the merger of the University and College Ombuds Association (UCOA) and The Ombudsman Association (TOA) following a period of transformation that led to establishing standards of practice for organizational ombuds. These standards were established on the pillars of neutrality, independence, confidentiality and informality. IOA’s mission is to “support and advance the global organizational ombudsman profession and ensure that practitioners work to the highest professional standards.”

In the 14 years since the inception of IOA, it has been acknowledged that some members must abide by institutional policies within their organizations which can limit their ability to fully adhere to the Standards of Practice, or SOPs. This has led to misunderstandings and those members often feeling excluded. There is tension over what it means to be an association of those in support of the organizational ombuds profession and those who should or should not be a full member of IOA. If members are not able to practice to the Standards, but are able to support the mission and conduct themselves professionally, they are considered full members in good standing by IOA.

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Some Thoughts on the Middle

By Kim Fulbright, University Ombuds, University of Cincinnati 

Wind tugging at my sleeve
feet sinking into the sand
I stand at the edge where earth touches ocean
where the two overlap
a gentle coming together
at other times and places a violent clash

Gloria Anzaldúa[1]
Borderlands/La Frontera





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The Visitor

By Ruthy Kohorn Rosenberg, University Ombudsperson, Brown University
IOA Board Member

I hear your footsteps slowing on the stairs.Hesitating at the top, You leave the carpet for the wood
Noticing the last direction, directions followed like bread crumbs
In this maze of a building.
And you
Hover just outside my door.

What will you carry through that door?
I will welcome whatever you bring.

I pause and breathe,
Gathering.
I still the aviary in my mind; fluttering, hopping, swooping.
Emails not returned, conversations just ended,
Emotions swirling from moments ago, not yet dealt with.
They finally take their places on the roost, and quiet.
My body poised













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A Storm of Protest Is Coming to US Workplaces

By Mauricio (Reese) Ramos

The traditional U.S. workplace has changed. Decades back, if an employee disagreed with an organization's policy, the employer would point to the door and remind the worker that if they didn’t like it, they could work someplace else. If an employee wished there was a telecommuting option, or that a designated lactation space was available, or medical benefits for same-sex partners were offered, the response tended to unequivocally be, “You don’t like it here? There’s the door.”

Nowadays, when an employer disregards employee concerns, employees voice their dissension. If you’re an employer, and are seeing the signs but disregarding the message, you better start listening because there’s a storm brewing.  And this time, employees are demanding to be heard. If you fail to listen and change, you will lose high-performing employees, damage the reputation of your brand or organization, and ultimately risk compromising your organization’s mission due to the disruption caused by disgruntled employees.

Sometime in this new century something shifted in the relationship between employers and employees. I noticed it when I was with a certain organization. When I first joined, when the new hires had a specific concern, their concern was typically dismissed.  Management’s message was, in short, that new hires should learn the system and adapt to it.    

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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.

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No New Year's Resolution - I'm Going to the Conference Instead!

By Roy Baroff, CO-OP®
Faculty & Staff Ombuds, NC State
Member, IOA Board of Directors

I know, we are now in February!  How can one still be thinking of New Year’s Resolutions? I was worried about this too until I recently heard someone say “Happy New Year” and it was January 31st! And, when asked, the person indicated they wished people Happy New Year until around November. I’m not going that far, as February works for me. So, here goes:

 No New Year’s Resolutions – I’m going to the Conference instead !

With each new year (or New Year), we routinely face the challenge to change our lives!!!  We are inundated by the idea that this time, this turn of the calendar, will be a catalyst for our next best self. I know this to be true as I saw it on Facebook, Instagram and even Linkedin!!  And, that’s what I was thinking when tasked with drafting a blog post for IOA as one of its Board of Directors.



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A Call for Your Experience

By Teresa Ralicki, Ombuds, University of Colorado Denver

Seeing shredded confidential material from another ombuds office, right in my face, as if to taunt me. Hearing about what it means for a colleague to sketch portraits. Feeling the impact of helping visitor after visitor through a photograph. These were profound experiences for me as I walked around the pop-up art gallery, Experience: On Display, at the IOA conference last year.

Let me backup a bit and share the story of this session’s inception. My first IOA conference was in 2012. I had been an ombuds for almost a year at that point. I was eager to be involved and to become part of the IOA fabric. It felt so good to be a part of this profession after years of struggling to find my way in the conflict resolution job world. Not only had I found a job that I loved, I was brought into the IOA community -- one that shared ideas, offered opportunities for growth and mentorship and, as I quickly came to observe, harbored a boatload of creative talent.

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Training Conflict Management in the Midst of a Conflict Storm

by Mark Patterson, University Ombuds, William & Mary

"Like putting a band-aid on a wound that needs a tourniquet,” the anonymous feedback read.

Ouch.

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For such a time as this…

By Elaine Shaw, Regional Ombudsman, CO-OP® , Pfizer Inc.
2018 IOA Board Member

It is a loud time in the world, and I am reminded of lines from a poem by Pablo Neruda, “Keeping Quiet.”

…If we were not so single-minded
About keeping our lives moving,
And for once could do nothing,
Perhaps a huge silence
Might interrupt this sadness
Of never understanding ourselves
And of threatening ourselves with death….

I recently returned from a trip to India, spreading the good news about our Ombuds Office with my wonderful colleague, Sophia Qiao. It was not a quiet trip. For those of you who have traveled or lived in India know, India can be a cacophony of traffic horns, streams of exotic language and lilting English. In the midst of this, there is the ubiquitous “namaste;” such a peaceful sound to my yogini ears. It was a full and wearying trip, but I was reminded how people everywhere respond to the peace and calm and safety we offer.Elaine Shaw and Sophia Qiao in India






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My Diversity & Inclusion Journey

Diversity Inclusion Word CloudBy Sana Ansari Manjeshwar
IOA Board Member

On the impact of including D&I principles in my Ombuds practice…

Sana_Manjeshwar_8x10I identify myself as an Asian, British, American female, raised in Nigeria, England and India, living in Texas and practicing spirituality inclusive of all religions. I used to think that my background represented the image of diversity and inclusion. I was wrong.

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is so much more than the representation of various genders and ethnicities. It means practicing a diverse and inclusive mindset where you are seeking different perspectives in the workplace and providing an environment where each person is valued for his/her/their distinctive skills, experiences, and viewpoints.


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Independence & the Two-Edged Sword

By Bruce MacAllister
IOA Board Member

As a part of my service on the IOA Board of Directors, I am co-chair for the Standards of Practice Task Force. Like all members of this task force, I appreciate that the Standards form the core basis for our practice and that there are deep implications to identifying any potential issues with them. Yet my time on this task force has led me to ponder each of the major elements of the Standards.

Through this process, I have compared my own experiences across a long and varied career with those of other colleagues in light of our standard of “Independence.” One common assertion has been that, to comply with the Standards, adequate independence required that ombuds refrain from participating in the social fabric of their workplace. So, activities like meeting a colleague for lunch were out of the question. I have discovered through my own experience as well as observing the practical experience of others, however, that the implications of independence and neutrality become more intricate when practiced in the context of real-life human dynamics.

The expectation that an ombuds is to be viewed as a trusted, competent, respected, and independent member of the risk management community becomes far more complex when evaluated in light of how trust and respect actually form. One might assume that it is imperative to maintain a healthy state of “remoteness” and distance from those with whom the ombuds may need to engage to avoid any perception of non-neutrality. However, when one factors into the equation the key elements necessary to foster trust, effective communication, and an appropriate degree of influence (not over the outcome, but relevant to the need for action) that remoteness can work at cross purposes to building trust and rapport.


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In Appreciation of My Networks

by Bryan Hanson, Ombudsperson, The Graduate School at Virginia Tech

Working as an ombudsman creates a sense of isolation at times, especially when you are a sole practitioner within an organization. This is a dynamic that became my reality when I took on the role of ombudsman for a university in a rural community. Throughout my career as a conflict engagement professional, I’ve relied on strong networks to help me through phases of my professional development. Fortunately, I’ve been located in communities that had many experienced professionals with whom I could engage and work on a regular basis. Now that I am in a rural community, I must rely on networks that I maintain from a distance.

As a newcomer to the ombudsman profession, I am finding that access to a strong network of support is critical as I navigate the situations I encounter on a daily basis. However, as I become more focused in my work as a conflict practitioner, I have realized that not only is my geographic location a challenge, the wider community of professionals sharing this role is much smaller. Fortunately, I am finding that my colleagues serving as ombudsmen in other institutions are very open to communication and engaging on a level that provides the needed support to ensure that I remain on the right path.

It is with great appreciation that I felt the need to acknowledge the level of support these networks provide and also to encourage others to foster the networks available to them. To do this I wanted to share my story of network development as an ombudsman in a rural community and hope that it inspires the sharing of other ombudsmen’s experiences with the networks that support them. By illustrating the many opportunities to get engaged with those that can be supportive of our success in our role, this interchange will hopefully benefit others new to the field and those who simply feel they could gain value by expanding their networks.

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My Experience as an Ombuds Tourist

By Diana Mosonyi

A friend of mine came up with the term “ombuds tourist” when I was telling her about my attempt to visit as many ombuds offices in the US as I could. Between November 2017 and February 2018, I took up the quest to find an answer to a seemingly simple question: Why is working in an office where people bring their anger, frustration, despair, bitterness, and tears so attractive? I’d like to share my journey with readers of The Independent Voice, as I believe they might find it interesting and useful as they consider their work as ombuds or paths to the profession. 

Diana Mosonyi

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Power: Questions and Stories

By Jim Huegerich, Senior Ombuds, Town of Chapel Hill

We all possess power in two key areas: questions and stories.

Questions are often asked to confirm an assumption, to challenge, or to convince. Imagine if we asked questions to truly learn about one another, particularly about those with whom we disagree or those very different from us? Questions, and the ways in which they are asked, have the potential to transform our interactions and inform how we approach, view, and engage people — particularly those with whom we deeply disagree. Through genuine curiosity we can learn to harness the power of questions to invite understanding and make connections between the asked and the asker. We can learn to:

  • discover questions that bridge the gap between differences and help us better understand the situation from differing perspectives
  • craft questions in a way that genuinely invites others to respond and elicits fresh, productive responses, particularly in stuck or divided conversations
  • avoid questions that close down a conversation during disagreement
  • foster awareness of the effects of questions on our perceptions, emotions, and relationships
  • create space for people to be real and to own their feelings in fresh ways that help them relate to themselves and others, surfacing possibilities unimagined by people stuck in disagreement

Stories are important for relationships. We all have a story to tell. The power of story connects us as real people, valued for who we are and where we are in life. Unfortunately, we often feel like we know others — what their stories are, and why they do what they do.  Or even worse, we do not care to know their stories. The challenge is to be willing to create the safety and the opportunity to elicit, then listen to, the story of another person. Allowing others to tell their stories is a gift we give to them.

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Skin in the Game

By Mary Conger, Doctoral Candidate, University of Pennsylvania; Founder, The American Dialogue Project
Chair, IOA Communications Committee

Last week, I went to see my doctor. In the course of discussing my minor malady she briefly mentioned an experience she’d had as a patient herself. It was a casual, entirely appropriate remark. She didn’t “overshare” or project her experience onto me. Her anecdote took all of 10 seconds to relay, but it has stayed with me for days.

I like my doctor. She is knowledgeable, experienced, well-regarded. Her academic pedigree is top-notch and her online reviews uniformly superb. Her wry but warm bedside manner is exactly my speed. If you had asked me two weeks ago, “How’s your doctor?” I would have answered, “She’s perfect!”

But this week, I find her even perfect-er. In conveying that she knew what it felt like to be vulnerable and under another’s care, she created a deeper trust between us. That is the incredible power of evinced empathy—it closes gaps that you didn’t even know were there.


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