People often ask me: “But what can you do for us in practical terms? What actions can you take?”
The first thing I can do is quite simply listen to you, without taking sides. Discussing something that’s going on with a neutral person, such as the Ombud, often lightens the burden and enables people to see things more clearly. My role usually goes beyond just listening, though: I analyse the situation with you with no holds barred and try to advise you on how best to proceed. For example, if you have a disagreement with a colleague, what’s at the root of it? What are the interests at stake – your own, of course, but also your colleague’s? Why do you think your colleague’s behaving like this? Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and trying to work out the reasons for their behaviour is often the key to resolving a conflict.
If you don’t feel able to reestablish communication with the other person yourself, I can try to mediate between you. Mediation is a voluntary process undertaken at the request of two parties who truly want to reach an agreement but can’t get there on their own. I’ll listen to both parties separately, several times if necessary, in order to understand not only their differences of opinion, but also their shared interests, which are the key to successful mediation. I’ll then lead a three-way discussion with the aim of reaching an agreement.
In other situations, my role might be to give you information to help you navigate the maze of rules and administrative procedures and to point you in the right direction.
If your problem lies outside my field of expertise, I’ll refer you to someone else. I’ll do this, for example, in the event of a dispute between you and the Organization, or if I believe the problem to be health-related. You’ll be supported by the Staff Association in the first case and by the Medical Service in the second.
Whatever the subject of our discussions, I wish to remind you that they’re protected by absolute confidentiality, which is no different to medical confidentiality or the protection of a journalist’s sources: whatever you tell me, I’m bound by professional secrecy, and it’ll remain strictly between the two of us. The Ombud’s role in the Organization is protected by this. There’s just one exception: if I find out that someone’s life is in danger.
The other fundamental principle is that you keep full control of the process: I’ll do nothing without your consent. That’s the benefit of the informal nature of the Ombud’s role.
If you’d like to comment on any of my articles or suggest a topic that I could write about, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at Ombuds@cern.ch.