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What is an Ombuds Worth?

As some of you know, I recently left my ombuds job at one organization to move into a new ombuds role. 

As I was communicating to colleagues that I was leaving, wanting to express appreciation as well as discuss how to keep certain processes and work going while I am not there, I got some nice responses back. Folks responded mostly with what would be expected: “Sorry to see you leave.” “You will be missed.” “Thank you for your help throughout the years.” 

There was one response that really got under my skin. One campus partner, who I respect greatly, said, “Thank you for all the listening you provided over the years.” While ombuds certainly do a lot of listening, and listening is incredibly important, I feel that is only a fraction of the work, effort, care, and dedication I put into the work and into the organization. It made me reflect on the ever-present struggle ombuds have of accurately communicating what we do; what we provide. It highlighted for me what I had felt from some leaders at the institution; that ombuds work wasn’t seen as “skilled” work, or work of high value. 

After I read this I had a few days left with CU and I went about my work, feeling a bit depleted. The next day, I co-mediated a situation between a student and a staff member. I left the mediation feeling pretty good. I was present in the moment and utilized some helpful skills. My co-mediator also provided some great support and insight. Both parties really opened up, were transparent about their hurts and their needs, and did a great job letting the other know they could understand each others’ perspectives. 

Much of the conversation focused on disconnects and miscommunications; the challenging language that was used and why there was so much confusion over the course of months. The parties made a plan for how to rebuild trust and how to structure things differently to try to prevent such disconnects in the future. 

As I was reflecting on this mediation, I thought… That mediation, that process, was priceless for the participants in the room. They had the opportunity for them to feel comfortable enough to sit in a room together - after avoiding each other for over half a year - and have an honest and meaningful conversation. They could begin to understand what happened and how they can address things better moving forward. 

My co-mediator and I structured the process in an intentional way. We were transparent about what we are doing, when, and why, so that the same process could be repeated without us. We were teaching while we were mediating. 

I can still remember moments of similar learning in my own past and how I bring those skills with me everywhere I go. They help me communicate more clearly, build and maintain relationships, and support others. So much of what I aim to do as an ombuds is to teach such skills to others. To be a student or a young professional and to learn skills of navigating difficult situations - skills that are applicable and effective throughout your life…that is priceless. 

So yes, I listen. We listen. And I, we, do so much more. Whether a person, or leader, or organization expresses a particular ‘value’ on what we do, I know the truth. Our value is priceless.