What is an Ombudsman?

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  • Written By: Cassie L. Damewood
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2019
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An ombudsman acts as a go-between when two parties are in conflict and appear to be at an impasse in their negotiations. The situation normally involves a dispute between a private sector person and a large company or government organization or branch. It could be a conflict about payment, goods or services. In many cases, the disagreement is between an employer and employee.

The ombudsman is expected to be totally impartial, even though she is often employed by the company or organization involved in the dispute. The interests of both parties should have equal weight in the negotiations. Any hint of partiality would render the negotiations moot.

The position may be appointed by a company, regulatory body or regional government. In the case of public utilities or related consumer focused organizations such as newspapers, she may be elected by a board voted in by the customers. In either case, the ombudsman is viewed as an impartial mediator. She has the trust of both parties to settle their differences fairly and amicably.

Besides being an intermediary, the ombudsman may be proactive in her job performance. Instead of addressing issues as they arise for conflict resolution, she may regularly review the organization’s statutes, policies and procedures. If she finds ambiguous positions or possible points of contention, she may recommend editing or eliminating them to prevent future challenges.


To get to the root of the conflict, it is often required for her to conduct her own investigation of the situation at hand. The more history she can uncover that relates to the case, the better she can negotiate amicable terms. This would include learning what circumstances lead to the conflict and what each party expects to gain.

This position generally requires exemplary communication skills. Not only must the ombudsman be an expert speaker, she is compelled to be a skilled listener. As both parties present their cases, what is inferred is as important as what is clearly stated. These subtleties may greatly influence the outcome of the negotiations.

Analytical skills are also required for success in this position. The parties are normally careful in deciding how they present their cases. A proficient ombudsman will analyze nuances and strategies and use this information to develop an agreement that both parties find satisfactory.

An ombudsman is expected to be a paragon of fairness. She cannot hint at any discriminatory attitudes based on race, creed, sex, religion or ethnicity. Both parties trust in her to treat them with an equitable attitude and view their interests and goals without bias.

Throughout the negotiations, the ombudsman is expected present her case with professionalism and a calm demeanor. Her presentation of the facts should be clear and organized. The confidentiality and privacy of her clients should be a very high priority.


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