How to be a Career Diplomat 


By Jamy J. Sullivan

Law firms and corporate legal departments are changing like never before. Even prior to COVID-19, in-house departments were increasingly integrated with other functions, while specialized law firms were hiring people in blended positions. The pandemic, which closed offices across the country, has brought with a new shift to the workplace, with 74% of employees hoping to continue working remotely after the pandemic.

In this new normal, maintaining positive, productive relationships with colleagues will be challenging. But it’s also a chance to shine. Professionals who can wield soft skills, such as a tactful tone and respect for the views of others, will not only well accepted by their peers but also positioned for professional advancement. Here are some tips for becoming an office diplomat — in or outside the office. 

Acknowledge that circumstances are challenging  

Everyone is finding it tough right now. Your colleagues may be worried about their health, their family and their job security. It’s hard not to internalize this. It can rattle the best of us and make it difficult to stay focused. 

It’s good to acknowledge these challenges when you’re interacting with your team members. Phrases like “in these unprecedented times” are in danger of becoming cliché, but they show you understand that your colleagues might be under pressure. If the other person says they are struggling, try to be an active listener so that you can get to the root of the problem and be a welcome ear for them. 

Follow the new rules of digital etiquette 

The new world of office work comes with new rules of etiquette. These are still emerging, but be aware of the basics, such as:  

  • Respond to emails and IMs within a reasonable timeframe. 
  • Set your out-of-office status when you’re not available, ideally with alternative contact details. 
  • Be on time for digital meetings. 
  • Choose an appropriate background for video calls and mute your mic when others are speaking. 
  • Don’t check your phone or computer applications during calls. 
  • Avoid creating internal spam, such as Reply All emails and pointless chat on the team communications platform. 
  • Whether your team is fully remote or a mix of on-site and people working from home, ensure that everyone is looped in on all important communications you originate.  
  • When feasible, use the other person’s preferred communication channel, whether this is by email, IM, virtual meeting or a phone call. 

Walk in their shoes 

Empathy is the key to diplomacy. A request may seem reasonable to you, but it may not look that way from the other person’s perspective. Before handing even a straightforward request to a paralegal on your team, for example, ask first whether the coworker might have time to help you now. 

Consider whether, if the situation were reversed, how you would like to be approached. Good diplomats know that you reap what you sow, and colleagues who are known to be supportive are more likely to get the favor returned. 

Know the office culture 

Office culture is important, even when nobody’s working in the office. If you’re new to the group, spend some time observing how people relate to each other. Even in an age of remote working, there will be unwritten rules that you should follow. 

No matter what the legal office of the future looks like, diplomacy will always be a career-boosting skill. By choosing your words and tone carefully, respecting the organizational culture and following the unwritten rules of etiquette you observe, you’ll always be a valued colleague.