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  • We tend to associate diplomacy with embassies,

  • international relations and high politcs.

  • But it really

  • refers to a set of skills that matter in many areas of daily life, especially at the office

  • and on the landing, outside the slammed doors of loved ones' bedrooms. Diplomacy is the

  • art of advancing an idea or cause without unnecessarily inflaming passions or unleashing

  • a catastrophe. It involves an understanding of the many facets of human nature that can

  • undermine agreement and stoke conflict, and a commitment to unpicking these with foresight

  • and grace. The diplomat remembers, first and foremost, that some of the vehemence with

  • which we can insist on having our way draws energy from an overall sense of not being

  • respected or heard within a relationship. We will fight with particular tenacity and

  • apparent meanness over a so-called small point when we have a sense that the other person

  • has failed to honour our wider need for appreciation and esteem. Behind our fierce way of arguing

  • may lie a frustrated plea for affection. Diplomats know the intensity with which humans crave

  • respect and so though they may not always be able to agree with us, they take the trouble

  • to show that they have bothered to see how things look through our eyes. They recognise

  • that it is almost as important to people to feel heard, as to win their case. We'll

  • put up with a lot once someone has demonstrated that they at least know how we feel. Diplomats

  • therefore put extraordinary effort into securing the health of the overall relationship so

  • that smaller points can be conceded along the way without attracting feelings of untenable

  • humiliation. They know how much beneath pitched fights over money or entitlements, schedules

  • or procedures, a demand for esteem can stir. They are careful to trade generously in emotional

  • currency, so as not always to have to pay excessively in other, more practical denominations.

  • Frequently, what is at stake within a negotiation with someone is a request that they change

  • in some way: that they learn to be more punctual, or take more trouble on a task, that they

  • be less defensive or more open-minded. The diplomat knows how futile it is to state these

  • wishes too directly. They know the vast difference between having a correct diagnosis of how

  • someone needs to grow and a relevant way to help them do so. They know too that what holds

  • people back from evolution is fearand therefore grasp that what we may most need

  • to offer those whom we want to acknowledge difficult things is, above anything else,

  • love and reassurance. It helps greatly to know that those recommending change are not

  • speaking from a position of impregnable perfection but are themselves wrestling with comparable

  • demons in other areas. For a diagnosis not to sound like mere criticism, it helps for

  • it to be delivered by someone with no compunctions to owning up to their own shortcomings. There

  • can be few more successful pedagogic moves than to confess genially from the outset,

  • 'And I am, of course, entirely mad as well…'' In negotiations, the diplomat is not addicted

  • to indiscriminate or heroic truth telling. They appreciate the legitimate place that

  • minor lies can occupy in the service of greater truths. They know that if certain local facts

  • are emphasised, then the most important principles in a relationship may be forever undermined.

  • So they will enthusiastically say that the financial report or the homemade cake were

  • really very pleasing and will do so not to deceive but to affirm the truth of their overall

  • attachment, which might be be lost were a completely accurate account of their feelings

  • to be laid out. Diplomats know that a small lie may have to be the guardian of a big truth.

  • They appreciate their own resistance to the unvarnished factsand privately hope that

  • others may on occasion, over certain matters, also take the trouble to lie to them, and

  • that they will never know. Another trait of the diplomat is to be serene in the face of

  • obviously bad behaviour: a sudden loss of temper, a wild accusation, a very mean remark.

  • They don't take it personallyeven when they may be the target of rage. They reach

  • instinctively for reasonable explanations and have clearly in their minds the better

  • moments of a currently frantic but essentially loveable person. They know themselves well

  • enough to understand that abandonments of perspective are both hugely normal and usually

  • indicative of nothing much beyond exhaustion or passing despair. They do not aggravate

  • a febrile situation through self-righteousness, which is a symptom of not knowing oneself

  • too welland of having a very selective memory. The person who bangs a fist on the

  • table or announces extravagant opinions may simply be rather worried, frightened or just

  • very enthusiastic: conditions that should rightly invite sympathy rather than disgust.

  • At the same time, the diplomat understands that there are moments to sidestep direct

  • engagement. They do not try to teach a lesson whenever it might first or most apply: they

  • wait till it has the best chance of being heard. At points, they disarm difficult people

  • by reacting in unexpected ways. In the face of a tirade, instead of going on the defensive,

  • the diplomatic person might suggest some lunch. When a harshly unfair criticism is launched

  • at them, they might nod in partial agreement and declare that they've often said such

  • things to themselves. They give a lot of ground away and avoid getting cornered in arguments

  • that distract from the deeper issues. They remember the presence of a better version

  • of what might be a somewhat unfortunate individual currently on display. The diplomat's tone

  • of reasonableness is built, fundamentally, on a base of deep pessimism. They know what

  • the human animal is, they understand how many problems are going to beset even a very good

  • marriage, business, friendship or society. Their good humoured way of greeting problems

  • is a symptom of having swallowed a healthy measure of sadness from the outset. They have

  • given up on the ideal, not out of weakness but out of a mature readiness to see compromise

  • as a necessary requirement for getting by in a radically imperfect world. The diplomat

  • may be polite, but they are not for that matter averse to delivering bits of bad news with

  • uncommon frankness. Too often, we seek to preserve our image in the eyes of others by

  • tiptoeing around the harsh decisionsand thereby make things far worse than they need

  • to be. We should say that we're leaving them, that they're fired, that their pet

  • project isn't going ahead, but we mutter instead that we're a little preoccupied

  • at the moment, that we're delighted by their performance and that the project is being

  • actively discussed by the senior team. We mistake leaving some room for hope with kindness.

  • But true kindness does not mean seeming kind, it means helping the people we are going to

  • disappoint to adjust as best they can to reality. By administering a sharp, clean blow, the

  • diplomatic person kills off the torture of hope, accepting the frustration that's likely

  • to come their way: the diplomat is kind enough to let themselves be the target of hate. The

  • diplomats succeed ultimately because they are a realist; they know we are inherently flawed, unreasonable,

  • anxious, comedically absurd creatures who scatter blame unfairly, misdiagnose their

  • pains and react appallingly to criticismespecially when it is accurateand yet they are hopeful

  • too of the possibilities of progress when our disturbances have been properly factored

  • in and cushioned with adequate reassurance, accurate interpretation and respect. Diplomacy

  • seeks to teach us how many good things can still be accomplished when we make some necessary

  • accommodations with the crooked, sometimes touching and hugely unreliable material of human nature.

  • If you're interested in coming to San Francisco to meet us at the end of March

  • please click on the link on your screen now to find out more. We hope to see you there.

We tend to associate diplomacy with embassies,

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The Art of Diplomacy

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    Elma Kung posted on 2018/06/15
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