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Be a connected diplomat

  • Writer's picturePhil McAuliffe

Change, diplomacy and you

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

You are the key to the change you want to see

Without doubt, a career in diplomacy is great. Current COVID-turmoil and uncertainties aside, we get some wonderful life experiences because of our work.

That said, it must be acknowledged that diplomacy is slow to change. The protocols that rule our interactions with each other are there for a reason, even if that reason feels like it’s been lost in the sands of time and harks back to an age where diplomacy was done at the speed at which letters could be dispatched.

In case it’s unclear, much of how diplomacy is done is not geared to modern times. While it is evolving, too often diplomacy does not keep pace with the immediacy of politics, ceaseless media cycles, restricted budgets and public demands on the services provided. Where it does keep pace, it does so as the burden is borne by the professionalism of its people almost in spite of the organisational structure.

I’m sure that you have felt this in your work and life on many occasions.

With that said, there is something comforting about diplomatic protocols. They are the rules that we all play by and they’re reassuring. To me, it’s like watching a five-day game of cricket; there's beauty and honour in the traditions.

I receive a lot of feedback from my global audience that you are waiting for your employer to change so you can be more yourself at work and feel comfortable enough to suggest positive changes to the workplace.

Let’s explore that, shall we?

What’s the problem?

Be honest, how many times in your career have you sighed, rolled your eyes and really wanted your employer to change?

Change recruitment practices.

Change promotion practices.

Change performance ratings.

Change the way meetings were run.

Change the strict hierarchical nature.

Change the way that people treated each other.

How many times have you complained about how things are done? It feels good to complain and complaining is important. Complaints are an invitation to do something about what’s bothering us, after all.

How has that been? Have things changed?

We all want a workplace in which we feel that we can bring our whole selves. We want to work in workplaces where are seen and we are heard. We feel that we belong in those environments.

We are significantly invested in our work

And in diplomacy, our work is more than just where we go or what we do. We are significantly invested in our work. Diplomacy is our life. We don’t just do diplomacy, we live it.

Frustrations soon mount when we don’t feel seen, heard or that we belong. Indeed, humans – including diplomats – need to feel seen, heard and that we belong and we will do almost anything in the attempt to get that feeling.

But how do we do this when we work within a bureaucracy and there’s so much about our work that’s out of our control?

What are we to do?

It’s tempting to indulge in some destructive behaviours when feeling frustrated. There’s a special thrill when we’re in a good gossip session or indeed, in a good whinge (or whine, if you prefer) session. It’s cathartic, isn’t it?

But gossip and whingeing can be very destructive. Gossip feels like connection. We feel like we’re connecting with someone or with a purpose when we’re gossiping. But gossip is toxic. The person who shares gossip with you about someone else is gossiping about you, too.

A good whinge feels good for a similar reason, but whingeing without getting curious about what personal boundaries have been crossed is a waste of time.

We need to move beyond our voicing our complaints and waiting for someone, somewhere to make the changes for which we long.

As Dr Maya Angelou said:

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

Simply, if you want your work to change, you need to change.

I found – and continue to find – great power in a tenet of classical Stoic thought. Specifically, I can’t control the situation, but I can always change how I respond.

We need to find ways where we feel seen, heard and that we belong and not wait for our employing agencies to see us, hear us and feel like we belong.

How do we do this?

Like everything when we want to make changes, we need to pay attention.

What are you complaining about? Complaining is a sure sign that a boundary has been triggered within you. Get curious as it’s an invitation to make some changes.

With whom are you gossiping about others? Stop it. It’s toxic and a cheap, cowardly way of trying to influence change.

Values: What are your employer’s values about how work is done? Are they being lived?

What are your values? Are you living them in all facets of your life?

Do your employer’s values align with yours? Radical honesty may be needed with your answer to this question and a fundamental discussion may be needed about what you’re doing. It may be time to leave.

Get involved: Change happens only when we do something differently. So, if you want something about your employing agency to change, start doing. Get involved. Start speaking up and having your voice heard.

Know this – when you decide to make and do change in your life, you create the space for others to do the same. One by one, by virtue of you deciding to be more you in the workplace, others will respond.

Sometimes, through the process of paying attention to our words, thoughts and actions and what triggers us, we realise that we need some help to help us move forward. Do you have a trusted friend, counsellor, coach or mentor in your corner who you know will understand, will respond with empathy and help you through? For as amazing as we feel we are, we always need someone who's outside of the negative loop we may find ourselves in to help us see the issue in another perspective and to move forward.

Who's in your corner?


The culture in your employing agency changes when you change. That’s when the magic happens.

Want to know more?

A reminder that ‘Minister’ and ‘Ambassador’-level members of The Lonely Diplomat can access my mentoring services and can talk to me regularly – and in real time – about what’s happening in their diplomatic life and receive wisdom distilled from lived experience as a posted diplomat, an accompanying spouse, a parent AND as someone whose relationship ended while on a diplomatic posting. Upgrade your membership here.

Thank you for supporting my work at The Lonely Diplomat by becoming a site member. I really appreciate your support and I hope that my work continues to serve, support, challenge and inspire you as you reconnect with yourself and the world around you.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post and suggestions for future posts.



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