Resolving conflicts at work
If you ever find yourself at Stanford in a difficult situation — be it academic, interpersonal, or work-related — the Stanford University Ombuds Office is here to help.
Brenda Berlin, the university Ombuds, serves faculty, staff, post-docs and students at the university, and she schedules appointments with visitors by phone or email (see her contact info at the conclusion of this article). There is a separate Ombuds who serves the School of Medicine.
In simple terms, what does the Ombuds Office do?
The Ombuds assists people with a wide range of issues, including workplace concerns, academic disputes, questions regarding university policy and procedures, disrespectful treatment, ethical issues, interpersonal conflicts, abuses of power, harassment, and bureaucratic complications. The Ombuds Office is a confidential, informal and neutral resource and thus is a place where members of the Stanford university community may safely and confidentially discuss their concerns and explore their options.
It is important that conflicts be resolved as effectively and promptly as possible because the personal and institutional costs of unresolved conflict are so great. Disagreements that involve someone’s professional future, academic career, paycheck, or workplace relationships have a profound impact on health and well-being. The Ombuds Office can play an important role in the process of conflict resolution.
How is the Ombuds Office different from HR when it comes to conflict management?
The Ombuds Office is not an office of notice. This means that the Ombuds is not obligated to report to the university about what is discussed with faculty, staff and students — including sexual harassment. The meetings are confidential, with the exception of situations in which the Ombuds is made aware of a threat to someone’s personal safety. Often those who visit the office will use it as an opportunity to safely explore their options while deciding how they want to handle their situation.
What types of issues does the Ombuds handle?
The Ombuds handles a wide variety of issues.
- Undergraduate students are often concerned about a grade they received, their academic standing, and issues related to fees and housing.
- Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will come in to discuss problems with their advisors or concerns regarding their progression toward earning their degree.
- Staff will frequently come in to discuss how to navigate interpersonal conflicts with a supervisor or colleague, or issues related to discipline or termination.
- Faculty concerns include promotion decisions, conflicts with colleagues, authorship disputes, and difficult student issues.
When would someone contact the Ombuds Office?
Members of the Stanford university community may contact the Ombuds Office at any time — whether it is to discuss and think through an issue that is looming on the horizon, to seek guidance during a stressful situation, or to look at options in the aftermath of an experience that feels unresolved. There is no right or wrong time to reach out to the Ombuds Office. If your work or educational life at Stanford is being interfered with by an issue that you feel could benefit from some guidance, then you should feel free to reach out.