Portrait of Waged Jafer standing outdoors
Photograph by Josephine Sittenfeld

Conflict is an unavoidable part of life, but Waged Jafer has made a career of helping people work through it. Earlier this year, she became Williams’ first-ever ombudsperson, an impartial and confidential resource for faculty and staff.

Jafer says her work involves “helping an organization do its best to be better.” That might mean assisting an individual as they navigate a new policy, helping colleagues sort out a misunderstanding or guiding a group as it moves through—or around—an impasse.

In addition to running her own consultancy, Jafer most recently served as regional ombudsperson for the Near and Middle East with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland. She held similar positions at the University of British Columbia and at Quest University Canada.

Describing herself as “a thinking partner,” Jafer says, “I’m not here to judge. I have expertise in conflict management and can give people the tools to solve their own problems.”

She shared with Williams Magazine some of her top advice, in her own words:

Don’t reply to emails when angry. Pause. Take a moment. Draft a response. Pause again, and do something different, like going for a short walk or doing a separate task. Then reread your draft response. You will certainly make changes to that draft before you click “send.”

Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assumptions are dangerous. Ask clarifying questions if you are unsure about something, or simply ask the person directly. If you “heard” something, don’t just assume it is always a fact. Rumors and gossip are harmful and contribute to negativity and conflict.

When in a disagreement, listen to the other point of view very carefully. Active listening aims to understand the other person. It requires a sense of empathy, where the individual says, “Let me listen to the other side carefully, judgment-free, and see where they are coming from.” Don’t just listen to respond, listen to understand.

Conflicts don’t go away if you just avoid them. Address them as they happen. No matter how uncomfortable the situation might be, try to see every conflict as an opportunity for growth, understanding and learning.

Image of Josephine Sittenfeld
Josephine Sittenfeld’s photo essays have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times and Shondaland. Her short film Growing Up Ethan is part of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery exhibition “The Outwin 2022: American Portraiture Today.”