One of my first bosses once said “Every diplomat has  a dragon in the doorway, the key is to know which dragon is hanging out in the doorway.”

I ignored it, not understanding what he was talking about.

A year into working at Foreign Affairs, I had an Assistant Deputy Minister make a comment about some diplomats coming back from a specific posting “we will have dragons in our midst, we will have to work around it, accept it, and be there.”

The dragon gave a good imagery for the emotions and the feelings that one goes through when coming back from posting. While on posting, you live in a community bubble, if things go bad, you still have the community holding you up, you become one beating heart. Your feelings of culture shock and PTSD are muted, you don’t go through the trauma the same way, because you are a part of the one beating heart. When you arrive back at headquarters, you are ripped away from that one beating heart, and you are dealing with the loneliness and isolation that comes with being in a department that doesn’t have the camradery.

Every diplomat has dragons, their dragons can either sleep or wake, when they sleep there is calmness and clarity, when they wake – there is fear, anxiety, nightmares, and sleep deprivation. When the dragon is awake, you are trying to figure out how to put it to sleep, to make it calm again.

My old boss used to comment, that no matter which diplomat you were ever going to deal with, whether it be a colleague from the same country, or another that you are trying to work with, you had to recognize that they had dragons too. When those dragons wake, you had to be considerate and sympathetic, and stay clear of forcing a person to make a decision when the dragon is awake.

I love this metaphor, because it doesn’t just apply to diplomats.


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