Ombuds’ corner: “I want it to stop!”

Most people that seek help from the Ombuds just want that their dispute ended, so they can get back to work in normal, respectful conditions. They clearly express it when I ask them what they want: “I want it to stop!” How should it stop? And who should stop it?


Ideally the interpersonal issues between the people working at or on behalf of CERN should be resolved between the colleagues concerned. This should really be expected in cases where the colleagues are part of the senior staff, for two main reasons: first, their high accountability to the institution should prevent them from falling into ineffective disputes; second, they are in charge of fostering dialogue among their supervisees and should not present such a detrimental image of fighting against each other.

Where conflict arises between a manager and a supervisee, and mutual understanding cannot be reached, their management should act and stop the fight right away to prevent further escalation of the dispute. Establishing a "cease-fire" should be the first order of business. Next, a suitable discussion can take place with management or with the various conflict resolution services available at CERN.

The real difficulty arises when management does nothing - when they do not immediately stop the incorrect behaviour, perhaps because they do not realize that there is bad blood, they do not know what to do, they do not want to interfere, or they do not have the courage to interfere with the conflict under the illusion that things might get better by themselves. Any conflict, if left unattended, will get worse. Miracles do not exist in this domain. The consequences of such indecision are harmful: some people may believe that they are protected by some kind of impunity, and others may feel entirely abandoned. Generally, it is when they reach this level of confusion that people come to the Ombuds. Fortunately, it is not too late, but it would have been much more effective if the parties had come sooner.

The Ombuds offers a neutral and impartial help to help colleagues reach an informal resolution to conflicts. In that sense, neutrality and impartiality means that he will not favour any party, whether it is a manager or a supervisee. The Ombuds helps managers and supervisees, in order to re-establish good communication in their mutual interest and in the interest of CERN. It is appropriate that during their disputes, parties do not forget about the fundamental interest of CERN, which is their environment. 


The first thing to do during a dispute is to stop the fight immediately. Either the parties realize that by themselves, their management acts courageously, or they seek help from the various services which provide it. It is also suggested that the Ombuds, due to his neutral, impartial and independent position, be consulted as soon as possible. Do not let conflicts inflate to the point where people will be wounded, stressed, sick, discouraged or strongly defensive. Act quickly and clearly!

Contact the Ombuds Early!


by Vincent Vuillemin