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Being a 'career diplomat'

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Although most firms can minimize conflict among coworkers with insightful management, communication does occasionally break down, and misunderstandings occur. Knowing how to react with diplomacy and tact under these situations can make you more effective in your job.

Suppose a colleague is missing deadlines on a project for which you are jointly responsible. Because you rely on him, your own productivity may suffer if you fail to address the issue. However, how you handle the chain of events can impact your future working relationship with this employee.

While the temptation may be to take your complaint to this person's manager, try instead going directly to the source. Ask for a one-on-one meeting with your coworker and be prepared to discuss specific instances in which his action (or lack thereof) created challenges for you. Keep the meeting positive and the dialogue constructive by focusing on actual events -- what happened and the consequences. Stick to the facts and avoid comments that may call into question his intelligence, competence, motivation or sense of commitment. And be open to hearing his side of the story.

This approach will not work in every circumstance, but by taking a less confrontational, more thoughtful approach to resolving conflicts, you stand a better chance of maintaining your calm and circumventing problems down the road. Consider the following suggestions for becoming the "career diplomat" in your office.

See both sides. Get to know the people with whom you work and understand what motivates them. Be cognizant of the pressures they may be under and set aside your own agenda to see things from their perspective. Before you ask for help on a project, determine whether your request will be overburdening an already busy worker. If you take appropriate steps to help ease his or her workload, you'll be rewarded with a more willing aide.

Know office protocol. Be sensitive to your department's traditional methods of doing things, especially when the workplace is unusually pressured. A firm's unwritten rules usually evolve out of precedent and are somewhat unique to the organization. For example, new projects have a way of stirring up "ownership" issues -- disputes over which individual or team has the final say in a decision. Though technically the only person you may need to seek feedback from on a project is your immediate supervisor, protocol may dictate that you also seek the blessing of a coworker recognized as the "resident expert" in that area.

If you invade someone else's territory with a new idea, your action can create resentment and compromise future working relationships. Instead, approach the internal expert early on to solicit his or her input and support. Also, remember that for something to succeed, it must be perceived favorably by employees whose day-to-day activities and responsibilities will be impacted. Be sure to get their buy-in as you go.

Use humor appropriately. A little humor on the job can ease stress, help maintain perspective and motivate others to do their best work. An employee with a good sense of humor is perceived as easy to work with. Try taking your work seriously but not yourself. And never try to get a laugh at someone's expense.

Regardless of your level in the organization, never assume that anyone from whom you seek information or a favor is less busy or less pressured than you. In today's workplace, most people have a full plate of critical projects for which they are responsible -- from the managing partner to the file clerk. Practicing career diplomacy means treating everyone with respect and dignity, always being fair, approaching each problem thoughtfully and becoming a first-class listener. Your professionalism will contribute to an atmosphere in which coworkers feel free to communicate openly and are highly motivated to succeed.

Submitted by Julie Allison, division director of Robert Half Legal

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