How to be diplomatic

Raise your hand if you’ve been witness to a workplace conversation that goes something like this?

Employee: I wish you had checked with me before making the decision.

Manager: I just assumed that it worked for you.

Employee: It puts me in a difficult position with the team.

Manager: Don’t worry. I’ll talk to them.

Employee: Ok. (a.k.a., I’ll believe it when I see it)

If your hand shot up, you’re in the majority.

A recent Robert Half survey of 400 Canadian workers showed communication and diplomacy as the skills workplace managers need to improve most. The results aren’t even close. Communication and diplomacy won by a landslide.

How to be diplomatic

The survey results aren’t a surprise to me. I’m guessing they aren’t a total surprise to you, either.

How to be diplomatic

Employees expect their managers, as workplace leaders, to be effectual communicators, mediators of workplace interpersonal issues, and facilitators of positive team dynamics. That may be a lot to ask of a manager, yet its’ what employees want, even in a non-hierarchical workplace.

Communications is a base element of collaboration

Many of the workplace problems we face are complex. They require collaboration, often among diverse people, to solve.

My view is that effective communication is a base element of collaboration success. If there was a periodic table for collaboration, communication would be right at the top, element #1. If we aren’t communicating well, we have little chance at succeeding with collaboration.

Whenever I give a talk on the topic of collaboration, I almost always start off with some points on communication.

How can we collaborate if we aren’t on the same page? Doubling down on that thought – how can managers get others to collaborate, from the same page?

Conflict as proxy for poor communications

Communication literally means to make “common”; to get on the same page with someone else.

My observations, as a mediator of scores of workplace-related conflicts, is that a communication breakdown is, as often as not, at the source of the conflict. Often, the stated conflict, e.g., “he didn’t follow the rules”, is proxy for what really galls the person; e.g., their irritation in not being able to authentically dialogue with the other person.

Of course, when you reflect for a moment, stated conflict as proxy for an unstated need is a scenario that plays out in any type of relationship; family, business, community. Scary thought, maybe?

Diplomacy is a negotiating skill

Merriam-Webster defines diplomacy as:

  1. the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations
  2. skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility; e.g., “she handled the awkward situation with diplomacy”

By any definition, diplomacy involves negotiation, and tact.

In the workplace, differences are bridged and consensus is built through negotiation. Negotiation acumen is essential.

Diplomacy in the workplace speaks to our negotiation style. How do we resolve differences? How do we relate to each other? How do we lead?

Three ways to improve your communications and diplomacy skills

There are tons of ways to improve communications and diplomacy skills. Here’s three I’ve found helpful:

  1. Increase self-awareness. Assessment instruments, such as Myers & Briggs and Conflict Dynamics Profile (my tool of choice) can give you a benchmark to journey from.
  2. Take a negotiations course. Negotiation is a learned skill. Get the rudimentaries down. Improvise from that base.
  3. Brush up on your context(s). Communications happens in context. Language, culture, and (safe) environment are pre-conditions for effective communications. Each context is different. Do your homework. Step to the other’s side. Get to know their world(s). Heck, maybe even go there?

The bonus of learning communication skills is that they are transferable.

This article was co-authored by Jennifer Clark. Jennifer Clark is an Evolution Coach and the Founder of Soulful Solutions, her life consulting business which helps both individuals and organizations evolve and grow into their full potential based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. She has over 20 years of experience assisting over 8000 individuals with life consulting, workshop facilitation, and public speaking training. She received a Risk Management Certification from the Sprott School of Business in 2000, an Integrated Energy Therapy Master and Instruction Certificate in 2004, and an Assertiveness Coach Certificate in 2015. She earned a BA with Honors in Political Science from Queen’s University in 1992.

There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Perhaps you are a manager looking to create a more positive work environment or maybe you are just looking to learn better conflict resolution skills. Diplomacy involves evaluating a situation before speaking or acting and taking the best course of action. While diplomacy can be difficult in certain situations, you can remain poised by being tactful, defusing difficult situations, and building relationships with others.

Learn practical tips to be a diplomatic communicator.

How to be diplomaticHow to Be More Diplomatic

Today’s article continues my discussion on how to deal with people more effectively and how to be more diplomatic. In part one I talked about diplomacy from a conceptual perspective, so today, I cover four practical tips for diplomatic communication.

What is Diplomatic Communication?

A diplomatic communicator is someone who can get their message across and convince people to change without damaging the relationship. Diplomatic communicators use reason, kindness, and compassion. They show respect for the other person.

Diplomatic communication is about being honest, but not brutally honest. And by the way, it doesn’t mean misrepresenting the truth either. It means communicating in a way that makes a person feel the interaction was respectful and positive.

In fact, I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, “It’s not what you say; It’s how you say it.” But how you actually say something diplomatically may not be so obvious. So, today I’ll share four practical tips to help you to learn how to communicate more diplomatically.

Tip #1: Learn to Flex Your Communication Style

Early on in my career, I was a very direct, right-to-the-point, communicator–no sugar coating for me. One of the best things I did was to attend a training session to better understand the concept of communication styles. I learned my preferred communication style, I learned how to identify the communication styles of those around me, and then I learned how to modify or flex my style to achieve better results.

The training was based on a book called, People Styles at Work, which I briefly talked about in the article Communicate Better with Different Types of People. I’ve since facilitated this type of training for numerous teams and I can say that having a model for understanding communication styles is an extremely valuable management tool (especially if your goal is to be more diplomatic).

Effective communication is the cornerstone of great relationships. Whether you’re communicating with friends, family, coworkers, your partner, or even strangers, everything goes smoother with effective communication. You get more of what you want and the other party is happier too.

Even difficult conversations – when handled with grace and composure – can be beneficial to your relationships – at least the ones that don’t involve toxic narcissists.

  1. Face the issue as soon as possible. It’s tempting to put off difficult conversations. However, not dealing with the issues can make them worse. In addition, it can prolong the anger and resentment you feel. Find the courage to face the other person and make the conversation happen.
  1. Prepare before the conversation. Consider all aspects of your concerns. You may benefit from making a list of points you need to discuss. How will you address these issues? Try to find the heart of the issues, so you don’t get lost during the conversation. A good analysis can save you time and effort later.
  1. Decide what you want to accomplish. What is your ultimate goal with this conversation? It’s important to have clear goals in mind ahead of time so you can stay on topic. What kind of an outcome do you want? Do you want to see things change? In what way? Do you want the other person to apologize?
  1. Give yourself time to calm down before you discuss the issue. If you’re angry or hurt, it may not be the best time to talk. It’s more effective to enter a difficult conversation with a calm attitude. If you’re too hurt to see past the emotion, put off the conversation until later. Try to see the issues from multiple perspectives and the other side.
  1. Understand the importance of silence. Silence isn’t a bad thing during a difficult conversation. You don’t have to fill every minute with words. TIP: Silence can be used to give you both a break and a chance to figure out what to say next. It can help you analyze the previous words. Pauses can also help you both maintain calm.
  1. Watch your emotions. During the conversation, you’ll benefit from controlling your emotions. Focus on staying positive and calm. Controlling your emotions may not be easy, but it’s important. Difficult conversations can dissolve into madness if emotions take over. Try focusing on the other person’s feelings and the long-term impact of your behavior.
  1. Think about your relationship. Friends, coworkers, spouses, family members, and others have unique relationships with you. The way you talk to them will stay in their memory. Difficult conversations are easy to ignore, but ignoring them is a slippery slope into frustration. Instead of hiding from the issues, consider how you can resolve them. Your relationships will benefit greatly when you can work together to find solutions.

Learn to handle these tough conversations with grace and, over time, you’ll find fewer and fewer issues that you have to resolve. As you flow more naturally and become more diplomatic, the issues will become opportunities instead.

You will need to be a citizen of the country whose government you seek to work for. There will also be security clearance checks for diplomatic work.

Keeping this in consideration, What are US diplomats paid?

Salary Ranges for Foreign Diplomats

The salaries of Foreign Diplomats in the US range from $68,600 to $187,200 , with a median salary of $175,110 . The middle 50% of Foreign Diplomats makes $111,040, with the top 75% making $187,200.

Secondly Do diplomats get paid well? Because costs of living vary by location, Foreign Service diplomats also earn locality pay, which increases basic annual salaries based on local prices. … Diplomats assigned overseas received locality pay of 20.32 percent for any country.

Is being a diplomat prestigious?

Diplomats have generally been considered members of an exclusive and prestigious profession. … Also, international law grants diplomats extensive privileges and immunities, which further distinguishes the diplomat from the status of an ordinary citizen.

Table of Contents

Is being a diplomat dangerous?

Danger. The most disconcerting disadvantage of being a diplomat is the possibility of a dangerous work environment. Diplomats often serve in countries where relations with local governments are tense or where uprisings by rebels counter to U.S. involvement pose a threat.

How difficult is it to become a diplomat?

The process to become a diplomat is a rigorous one. You have to possess many skills and have the right experience to convince the interviewers that you are right for the job. Moreover, there are always thousands of applicants for one diplomat job.

What do diplomats do all day?

Most countries’ diplomatic responsibilities are divided into three main categories: political, trade, and consular services. … In contrast, a consular officer deals with day-to-day travel problems like lost passports and provides essential services to citizens in need.

Is being a diplomat a good career?

Diplomats travel extensively, making it a great career for those who are interested in interacting with people from different cultures and customs. … Diplomats also have the ability to shape foreign policy.

Can anyone be a diplomat?

An individual interested in becoming a diplomat must be a U.S. citizen and be between the ages of 20 and 59. A college degree is not necessary; however, possessing a college diploma and having the ability to speak a foreign language improves an individual’s chances of being hired.

Is it easy to find a job as a diplomat?

If you’re looking for a career that will allow you to have a global impact, becoming a diplomat is a challenging and highly rewarding choice. To get started on this career path, aspiring Foreign Service Officers should begin preparing early on to build the skills and experience they need to be successful.

What benefits do diplomats get?

For those posted overseas, benefits may include hardship allowances for posts where living conditions are considered difficult, education allowances for children, travel expenses and rent-free accommodation.

Is a diplomat the same as an ambassador?

is that ambassador is a minister of the highest rank sent to a foreign court to represent there his sovereign or country (sometimes called ambassador-in-residence ) while diplomat is a person who is accredited, such as an ambassador, to officially represent a government in its relations with other governments or …

How long does a diplomat stay in a country?

Most diplomats spend a short period of about three years in one country, and many serve in a developing country at some point in their career, where disease, war, and social unrest may be rampant.

What skills do you need to be a diplomat?

Diplomats need strong analytical, organizational, and leadership skills. They must have good judgment and high integrity. In addition, they must be able to communicate effectively, both in writing and orally. They must be able to learn at least one foreign language, often several, during their careers.

How many years does it take to become a diplomat?

Most diplomats spend a short period of about three years in one country, and many serve in a developing country at some point in their career, where disease, war, and social unrest may be rampant.

Can you become a diplomat with a law degree?

Surprisingly, there are no specific requirements to become a career diplomat in the Foreign Service other than achieving a high score on the Foreign Service written exam and oral assessment. … In explaining how to join the Foreign Service, he points out that a law degree is not needed to enter.

Can a doctor become a diplomat?

It is easy for medical people to become diplomats, but it is not easy for diplomats to become medical people. Dr. al Shouli trained in medicine in the morning and diplomacy in the evenings.

Do diplomats live in embassy?

In some countries, American staff may live on the embassy compound, but they frequently live in apartments or houses in the host city. The ambassador’s residence is often used for official functions, and its public areas are often decorated with American art on loan from museums.

How hard is it to become an ambassador?

Becoming a U.S. Ambassador is a tricky, time-consuming process. With enough persistence and some smart strategizing, however, you just may land your dream ambassadorial appointment someday. In most cases, you will have to “pay your dues” first as a foreign service officer.

What is a diplomat personality?

Diplomats have a deep belief in the ideals of humanism – altruism, compassion, and understanding. These personality types believe it is possible to create a kinder world, and they strive to do so every day. The Intuitive trait fuels this optimism.

What is a female ambassador called?

1 : a woman who is an ambassador.

Do ambassadors have to speak the language?

Although American diplomats are not required to speak any languages other than English upon joining the service, we are required to become fluent in at least one foreign language within the first five years.

How do you address a retired ambassador?

Smith.” An ambassador of the United States may continue to be addressed as “Mr. /Madam Ambassador” after retirement or after returning from his/her duties abroad.

Is an attache a diplomat?

An attaché is normally an official, who serves either as a diplomat or as a member of the support staff, under the authority of an ambassador or other head of a diplomatic mission, mostly in intergovernmental organizations or international non-governmental organisations or agencies.

I am a young executive who has managed to climb the corporate ladder at a rapid pace. My current boss of seven years has been part of my success as he closely mentored me and exposed me to the right individuals—allowing them to see my work and leadership. With my recent promotion, he is expecting me to be more assertive with colleagues and even customers.

My dilemma is that I tend to have a diplomatic rather than assertive approach, and believe this leadership style has contributed to my success. My boss is more aggressive, outspoken, and even intimidating. In previous conversations, he has made it very clear that I need to speak up and assert myself. How do I balance assertiveness with diplomacy?

Mr. Nice Guy

Dear Mr. Nice Guy,

I like your question, because I’ve had to answer it myself. I want to be successful, but not if it means being a bully. I want to be nice, but not if it means being taken advantage of. Fortunately, these are Fool’s Choices—false dichotomies that only appear to be trade-offs. In reality, you can be successful without being a bully, and you can be nice without opening yourself up to exploitation. It’s a question of skills.

The What: Your manager thinks you are compromising the organization’s interests in order to maintain positive relationships. This is a common trap you can avoid. The key is to know what you want out of an agreement. Below are a few tips:

1. Focus on interests, rather than positions. Hold firm to your core interests, while being flexible about how these Interests are achieved. Remember, it’s about achieving your interests, not about winning an argument.

2. Involve your manager in determining core interests. The two of you need to agree on what you want to achieve.

3. When determining interests, encourage your manager to take a broad and long-term perspective. Don’t get caught up in silo warfare. Instead, ask what’s best for the enterprise.

4. Know your BATNA—your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. Have a clear Plan-B that you will follow if you can’t achieve your interests. The more confidence you have in your BATNA, the more comfortable you will be walking away from an unacceptable agreement.

5. Challenge others to look beyond their position. Help them identify their interests and broader purpose. In addition, inquire about their fears or their worst-case scenarios. Focus on creative ways to achieve their interests as well as yours, while insuring against their fears.

The How: Find ways to be both tenacious and sensitive. Be clear and specific without becoming disrespectful or abusive. Below are a few tips:

1. Be assertive and outspoken when describing your interests. Not mean, but passionate, specific, and resolute. Make sure people know you are committed to your interests. This doesn’t make you a bully, unless you shut down their ability to respond.

2. Encourage others to be equally assertive and outspoken in describing their interests. Don’t allow your strong opinions to prevent them from sharing their perspectives. Their silence might produce short-term compliance, but create long-term problems. We suggest the following guideline: “The only limit to how strongly you can express your opinion is your willingness to be equally vigorous in encouraging others to challenge it.”

3. Be clear about your BATNA. Show that you are ready to walk away from unacceptable agreements. This puts pressure on others, without making it personal.

4. Be Factual. Don’t exaggerate, spin the facts, or speak beyond the facts. Explain the source and relevance of the facts you employ. The facts establish common ground and are the foundation of your credibility.

5. Recognize when others are moving to silence or violence. When others are withdrawing or becoming overly aggressive, stop what you are doing, and step out of the content. Take the time to determine why they are feeling under attack. Have they lost sight of your common purpose? Do they feel disrespected?

6. Restore safety, but don’t compromise your interests. The mistake would be to restore peace by giving in. The better solution is to restore safety by reaffirming your common goals and your respect for them. Once they realize you are a friend, not a foe, they will be ready to return to dialogue. Then, when you return to the content, you do so without having compromised your interests.

I hope these ideas help you be both sensitive and tenacious. I’d love to hear how others manage this dance between passionate, outspoken commitment and reasoned, diplomatic dialogue.

Best of Luck,

How to be diplomatic

David Maxfield


David Maxfield is coauthor of Crucial Accountability, Influencer and Change Anything. He taught at Stanford University and the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University, and was awarded the Motorola University’s Distinguished Teaching Award and Stanford University’s Dean’s Award for Innovative Industrial Education. During his career he was a highly sought speaker, consultant to the Fortune 500, and vice president of research at Crucial Learning. He retired in 2020.

How to be diplomatic

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My meetings over four decades in the Oval Office, the White House Situation Room, the State and Defense Departments and in foreign capitals have been an invitation to reflect upon the core characteristics of outstanding practitioners of diplomacy. I have had the opportunity to learn from extraordinary mentors in each of these settings. From these experiences, here are fifteen characteristics that I believe are fundamental for successful diplomats.

Possess an abiding interest in and passion for the art and craft of diplomacy and international relations. If this subject matter does not feed you, if you do not have a compelling instinct to learn about the world, pursue a different profession.

Demonstrate an analytical temperament. Our current culture encourages ideological predisposition and rigidity. We are invited to have an opinion without first having a full command of the facts. Resist the temptation to prescribe before you analyse. Dean Acheson understood how hard this is, “I was a frustrated schoolteacher, persisting against overwhelming evidence to the contrary in the belief that the human mind could be moved by facts and reason.”

Write well and quickly. Nurture your ability to rapidly produce quality prose. Read and learn from great writers. Try George Orwell, E. B. White and John McPhee.

Be verbally fluent and concise. George Shultz observes that listening is an underrated way of acquiring knowledge. Pay attention, speak only when necessary and keep your comments brief. These are not qualities highly prized in academia.

Ensure meticulous attention to detail. Whether your work is going to the President or Prime Minister, to your immediate superiors or to your peers, each deserves a flawless product. Don’t accept less of yourself. Jeff Bezos stresses, “If you don’t understand the details of your business you are going to fail.”

Be a tough and effective negotiator. Getting to yes is not the objective of a diplomat. Begin instead with what best serves your country’s national interests and then seek to achieve a negotiating outcome as close to those requirements as possible. Adopt clear red lines and do not compromise beyond them. And as James Baker advises, “Never let the other fellow set the agenda.”

Build long-term physical and mental stamina. With the exercise of power and responsibility comes continuous 12-16 hour days, filled with pressure and stress. Be fit.

Accept dangerous assignments. Diplomats frequently serve in menacing locales, sometimes die in the line of duty. From Libya to Iraq to Afghanistan and beyond, this is not a line of work only conducted in rarefied surroundings. Reflect on your degree of anticipated personal courage before entering this profession.

Study history. Former Harvard faculty giants Ernest May and Richard Neustadt eloquently counsel thinking in the context of time. They insist that knowledge of history does not provide exact policy prescriptions in present circumstances, but it does illuminate choices and raise central questions of policy formulation and implementation. A good start is Henry Kissinger’s A World Restored.

Prudently speak your opinion to power. Be ready to disagree with evolving policy when it really matters. But choose your dissenting moments wisely. Don’t badger your principal. And if such policy differences become paramount, don’t whine. Resign.

Be loyal and truthful to your boss. Never question outside of government a decision made further up your bureaucratic chain of command, no matter how much you disagree with it. Once such a decision is made, your professional duty is to try your best to implement it. There is nothing courageous in disavowing your Administration’s decision in whispered tones in social settings. And never misrepresent or lie to your official superiors, no matter how expedient it might appear at the moment. If you do so, you should be fired.

Cultivate policy resilience. If the Duke of Wellington never lost a battle, most generals do – and so will you. Expect periodic policy defeats and energetically move on to the next challenge.

Acquire relevant work experience. Invest time, energy and effort in your own professional development. Don’t thirst for too much power and responsibility too soon. In diplomacy – as in most endeavours – experience is a crucial component of success. As Renaissance painters demanded, apprenticeship is a necessary step in professional enhancement. Would you hire a plumber who was academically well versed in water distribution, but had never installed a pipe?

Know your political ideology. No matter how flattering a foreign policy job proposal may be, ask yourself whether your ideology is compatible with that of the offering institution. Not to do so is to invite endless professional pain and torment.

Take advantage of luck when you encounter it. When Napoleon was asked what kind of generals he looked for, he responded “lucky ones.” Be ready when events in the world provide policy opportunities you can exploit. Getting on a personal professional wave you can ride – and that you want to ride – is also importantly a matter of good fortune. Relentless attention to the other fourteen characteristics enumerated here will put you in the best position to partially make your own luck in your career.

How to be diplomatic

Susan Rice served as the United States ambassador to the United Nations during President Barack Obama’s first term in office. She was later appointed by President Obama as National Security Advisor, a position she held until the end of his presidency.

Today she is the Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow at the School of International Service at American University, a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.

She is the author the New York Times bestseller Tough Love: My Story of Things Worth Fighting For*. In this conversation, Susan and I discuss how her upbringing shaped her skills at mediation, the course corrections she navigated in her career to get better, and how she ensured all perspectives were heard inside President Obama’s National Security Council meetings.

Key Points

  • Susan’s early experience mediating the arguments between her parents helped her develop resilience that would be useful later.
  • It’s helpful to separate the behavior from the person. Address inappropriate behavior, and keep it in context with the larger relationship.
  • “You can get a long way leading a team, even if many members of the team don’t actually agree with the direction you’re steering towards, if they feel that their advice, perspective, recommendations have truly been heard and appreciated.”
  • When facilitating a critical meeting, ensure the principal attendees receive reading points and preparation well in advance.
  • Humor, an iron fist, or a velvet glove are all useful tools at the right times. Experience helps you determine what’s best in the moment.
  • Wisdom from Susan’s dad: “You can’t let other people define you, for you.”

Resources Mentioned

    * by Susan Rice

Book Notes

Download my highlights from Tough Love in PDF format (free membership required).

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