How to Be Diplomatic

Oct 20, 2011
5 Min Read

Diplomacy is not just for world leaders and college-level debate teams.  If you work with other human beings, you need this skill today.  The hallmark of the diplomatic person is assertiveness, or readily expressing your views while respecting the opinions and dignity of others.  Diplomatic people recognize that they are most likely to get their own needs met if they can communicate their goals without evoking hostility in the other party.  These are the individuals who can come out of necessary and frank conversations with their reputation intact.   Let’s look at how they do it:


They approach negotiations from a win/win perspective

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says that if you want another person to cooperate with you, first analyze what he wants and then communicate how working with you can help him get it (i.e. you win, and they win).

They problem-solve rather than spar

Diplomatic individuals lay out the scenario calmly and solicit the other person’s help in finding the best solution.  They listen carefully to the other person’s feedback without interrupting and ask questions for clarification.

They are tolerant of opposing points of view

Diplomatic people respect that they may not always see eye-to-eye with other people, so they don’t waste time and energy forming judgments about their co-workers.  In conversations in which a fundamental difference of opinion is at play, they use facts to support their ideas and use non-accusatory language such as “I think that…” or “it seems that...” rather than “you think that…” or “you always…”

They use positive body language

Diplomatic people maintain an even, audible tone when they speak.  They relax their body and keep an appropriate distance away from the people with whom they’re conversing.  They always make eye contact.

Of course, you can control your own behavior, but you can’t control other people’s, so you must be prepared to react professionally when someone attacks you.  The key is not to let yourself get angry or upset, because goading you into a shouting match is exactly what the other person wants.  Instead, stay calm, hear the person out, and be empathetic to her point of view.  If she says hurtful things you know she doesn’t mean, try not to take them personally, for you may not understand where these comments are truly coming from.

Can’t keep from losing your cool?

Pay attention to the signs that you’re about to blow (hands shaking, tears pricking at your eyes, etc.).  Then, politely excuse yourself and say you’ll talk to the person another time.  If you’re on the phone, it’s even easier.  Just say that you need to take an urgent call and request a follow up conversation later that day. Your efforts at diplomacy will be much more effective after you’ve both had a chance to cool down.

Be proactive

If you know there is a particular situation that gets to you, practice how you will respond the next time it rears its ugly head.  And if you find a specific person difficult to deal with on a regular basis, schedule a lunch or a meeting and ask him frankly how the two of you can work better together.   A compromise or a sacrifice might be necessary, but being perceived as the bigger person can only help your reputation in the office at large.

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