Are you known for your diplomacy? Or the directness (dare I say bluntness) of your interaction with others? Is that always getting you the results you seek?
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Diplomacy. Being diplomatic. Sounds like one of those “warm and fuzzy” concepts that “real” business people pooh-pooh, right? Something those United Nations people or politicians use all the time. Except that when they’ve finished, we end up wondering what they have actually just said, correct?
However, in my decades of corporate life and having coached hundreds of business executives, owners and professionals in 20 countries, diplomacy has always played an important role in advanced communication to get better results. To become aware of the value of leveraging the benefits of diplomacy. Diplomacy is an integral part of my “soft skills” coaching. Where I guide and assist people just like you in sharpening your ability to more smoothly and authentically influence and persuade others. To leverage your language and behaviour skills. To become more relatable and to win more people over to your agendas.
What my clients experience, is that this subtle, elegant and sophisticated use of diplomacy in our interaction with all of our stakeholders, is a key differentiator. In developing our credibility, visibility and presence. And hence of course, our desired outcomes.
Yet in doing so to nonetheless always maintain your assertiveness.
Diplomacy – Some Definitions
The broadest, most business communication relevant definition of diplomacy I found was: “the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and tactful way”.
More personally, I describe it as winning the other party over to our agenda in an elegant, assertive but respectful, tactful manner without offense or confrontation. And them being able to walk away from the interaction thinking they have also “won” their anticipated outcome.
A valuable source of self-learning reference for me was Sun Tzu’s book “The Art of War”. Essentially the art of war is to do everything possible to avoid it in the first place. That is in essence one of many great origins of diplomacy. To avoid confrontation. To find common ground that we can build a relationship on. One that wants to lead to mutually beneficial outcomes.
So, What Is This Diplomacy Thing?
Diplomacy is about respect. It is about being non-judgemental. It is about delivering a message in a manner that honours the person receiving it. As well as the position they are taking. It is about the art of pleasing – or staying on good terms with most people, most of the time. Communicating with people in a way that they feel like their interaction with you has been civil, respectful and worthwhile. That they are willing to keep engaging with you and your organization.
Diplomacy is about respecting other cultures or backgrounds and not expecting everyone to see things the way you see them. This does not mean yours or theirs is right or wrong – just that it could be different. And that it’s OK to be different. Not everyone is “wired” to be as assertive and blunt or direct as a lot of Western business cultures are.
Particularly in many parts of Asia, diplomacy is about saving face or not losing face. That entails finding approaches or interactions that always leave the other party a way to maintain their dignity. Or their belief that you have done the right thing by them. It means they are not left without “anywhere to go”. Or without options that allow them to retain that all important dignity.
I win – you lose is far too blunt an approach to adopt all the time. Black and white is too simple. There must be room for grey. Ambiguity can be confusing. Yet applied elegantly, can leave sufficient room for the other party to interpret what they (and you) want (them) to hear from what you said.
Diplomacy in Leadership
In a leadership sense, one doesn’t have to work through, round, over, under people to achieve desired outcomes. It is OK to work with people, and have them involved in the problem-solving process. Helping them to understand the viewpoint of others. Allowing them to help you understand theirs. Moving them to common ground so that everyone feels they have been able to contribute. And thus, can buy into the solution, even if in the minority.
Diplomacy involves being tactful, which is doing and saying things kindly so that nobody is offended. (In German we say: “the tone makes the music”). It is about considering others feelings and winning their support. Not running roughshod over them and expecting them to “toe the line” because you are the boss and you said so. Or because you are the specialist and know so.
However, that never means losing assertiveness or rolling over or giving in to anything.
Developing the art that enables you to convey “difficult” messages without putting the other person down.
Diplomacy in Consulting
In the context of consulting or selling, diplomacy is another of the “soft skills” that helps you “win people over”. And “stacks the odds in your favour” because people are attracted to the way you treat them. It isn’t enough to not be a “difficult person”. You need to actively become known as an open, friendly, fair and reasonable player. One that doesn’t offend and judge. But that people can’t “mess with” nonetheless.
Getting known for finding others’ “what’s in it for me” through asking lots of relevant questions that guides the conversation to where and how your solution best suits their need (but only if it does). And building trust through active listening – with all your senses.
In my experience, diplomatic behaviour and attitudes earn one the reputation that “he or she is someone you can talk to”. Someone you can trust. And in the professional’s arena that is gold.
Diplomacy – So What?
So, across all these attributes that make up the label of “being diplomatic”, how would you rate yourself on a scale of 1 – 10 today?
Do we have some work to do? My experience is that having someone that can hold up a mirror to show you where the improvement opportunities are is super valuable to assuring the change you want to make. This is the quintessential role of a good coach.