Ombudsman, Center for Cooperative Resolution, National Institutes of Health
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
You mentioned right at the beginning of the interview about how you do tailor your interventions to specific circumstances. What I am wondering is what process of assessment do you go through to determine how you will tailor an intervention?
A: Well, it is a two-part process. First of all, people come to us so the nature of the intervention is to some degree set by them. That is if you had come to me with a situation, a problem with your boss, we would talk about the situation to understand something about it and then we would look at a range of options for possible ways of dealing with that could include everything from doing absolutely nothing, to some kind of coaching, to some kind of more active intervention, to formal grievances with lawsuits of whatever.
I feel an obligation to give you a sense of the range of options that might be available to you but it has to be your decision. With very few exceptions, the only exception would be if there was a threat of violence to yourself or others. I am not going to do anything, to talk to anyone without your knowledge and permission. It really is confidential. I would explain to you at the outset that violence would be the only exception, so it is not a bait and switch kind of thing. I might have a sense that it would be very valuable on the basis of your account to have you and your supervisor to meet together and talk it out. You might say you are so worried about the possibility of reprisal. Your supervisor has been so clear. "You talk to anyone else about it then you are dead."
Then I am going to take your lead, I am not going to force you into what I think would be the best intervention. I might talk to you about ways in which we could make the possibility of a joint meeting a palatable suggestion for the supervisor and how it might be made. If you were unpersuaded, then that is it. We can drop the whole thing. You could just come in regularly to get some advice about how to handle situations or whatever it may be.
However, once someone has asked for some kind of intervention and opened up the possibility of us speaking to other people in the office then in the course of talking with him we sort of try to make clear that we don't begin with a pre-conceived notion about what the best way of intervening is. It might be to bring people together, but it might not be to bring people together. And then the assessment is built on what you hear, the stories that are told from the different people, from the questions that you are asking.
So you are trying to identify what the structural factors supporting the dispute, what are the qualities of the dispute itself. We have a whole reflective practitioner model that we use in this office and we have a whole template of questions that we ask about disputes and about our interventions which we do our assessments.