We hear so much about the need for diplomacy these days in everything from international relations to bi-partisan relations, but the art of diplomacy isn't just for national leaders and members of Congress. Diplomacy, the employment of tact to find mutually acceptable solutions to a common challenge, can be employed by everyday people in everyday situations to the benefit of all.
Think of the many challenges we face: Your daughter, a freshman in high school, wants to date a senior. Your five-year-old son doesn't want to share his new Play-Doh set with his cousin who is in for a holiday visit. Your coworker speaks so loudly on phone calls that you can't focus and he's tired of your dirty looks. Your Aunt Rose doesn't speak to your Aunt Mary, but is the sister of Mary's husband, Bob who rarely gets to see Rose. How are you going to please everyone with the seating plan at your wedding reception?
Situations like these pop up all the time and they can really push our buttons if we let them. The result? Anger, arguments, hurt feelings, crying and worse. So how can the art of diplomacy make a difference and what's in it for us?
Well, diplomacy is a way of handling sticky situations that leads to consensus and compromise. In other words, it is a way of finding a solution that everyone can live with which, admittedly, is often easier said than done. Happily though, diplomacy involves certain skills that, given some practice and patience,
everyone can learn:
This is perhaps the biggest part of diplomacy. Learning to control our own defenses and put off our own agendas for long enough to hear what the other person is saying is critical. Active listening (making eye contact, avoiding the temptation to interrupt unless it is to ask relevant questions, rephrasing what the person has expressed to make sure you are getting their message) is most important. There can be no negotiations unless there is communication.
Sending a Clear Message
The way you state your own needs can make or break the problems-solving process. Attacking the person, belittling their concerns or putting them on the defensive will always backfire. Using “I-Statements,” saying “I feel___________________________when _________________________. What I need is ___________________________” rather than “You always_______________, I hate it when you _______________________, You are_____________________________” is the best approach to enabling someone to not get defensive and actually be able to hear what you are saying.
Being able to see a problem through someone else's eyes, from their perspective, helps you to know how to approach them and how best to devise a solution that meets their needs as well as your own.
Finding Common Ground
In any dispute, there is always something, no matter how minuscule it may be, that you and the other party can agree upon. Take a lesson from Barack Obama's recent debate with John McCain. He often began his comments with a statement of John McCain's comments or positions he could agree with and then went on to differentiate himself. This tactic allowed people who might be McCain supporters or Independent's leaning in that direction, to be more open and willing to listen to his commentary. In working out your issue with another person, it always pays to find any smidgen of common ground you can and then to build upon it. You end up transforming your relationship from one of adversaries to one of a team working together to find a creative solution.
Nothing shuts down a negotiation or a conversation more quickly than angry comments, raised voices and insults or threats. Think before you speak and excuse yourself briefly to calm down if things get too heated.
Constructive problem-solving takes a little more time than a quick fix. Knowing this ahead of time can make the process less stressful.
So, we know that while diplomatic efforts don't always meet with success, they really are our best and most sensible first line of defense. Foreign diplomats and skilled leaders have been using the art of diplomacy to great advantage for many, many years. But how can diplomacy help you and me?
Let's go back to some of the everyday problems I listed. Johnny doesn't want to share his Play-Doh. We could just give Johnny a scolding look and ask him if he's forgotten his manners and remind him that “it's nice to share.” Johnny feels like no one understands, like everybody is mad at him and that they now think he's a “bad boy.” He cries, or throws a tantrum. There's a big scene, mom's embarrassed and that makes her even more mad. Johnny gets sent to his room....or.....
Johnny's mom asks him why he doesn't want to share. He tells her that he hates having the colors of Play-Poh getting all mixed up. He wants to keep the colors separate so he has all of the colors to play with next time and the next time. Mom acknowledges and validates those feelings by listening and together they try to come up with a compromise. She tells him that she feels bad when Johnny's cousin feels left out or unable to play with his toys and tells him she'd like to find someway to make everybody happy. “How about if only one color is opened at a time and it has to be put away before another color is opened,” she offers? Johnny accepts the compromise, everyone gets to play with the Play-Doh and no one ends up in tears.
In a more difficult situation, like the one involving feuding relatives and wedding receptions, diplomacy can be trickier. Seating everyone separately, may lead to strained relations with Uncle Bob. Seating them together and letting them hash it out, may lead to ugliness on what should be a beautiful day. What to do? The person planning the seating needs to know whose feelings and objections will be the strongest. If Aunt Rose is the most adamant about seating, she must talk about options with Aunt Rose. By allowing Rose to state her objections, by trying to understand, accept and be considerate of her feelings, a solution becomes more likely.
Where's the common ground? Both the bride and Aunt Rose want the day to be beautiful and enjoyable, Uncle Bob and Aunt Rose want to spend time together without Mary involved. Given that, both the bride and Aunt Rose can begin to brainstorm ideas of how to make that happen (short of throwing Aunt Mary under the limousine in the parking lot). Perhaps Uncle Bob and Aunt Rose could mingle during the cocktail hour and be seated separately for the dinner? Maybe Aunt Rose and her brother Bob could be seated next to each other with Mary on the other side of Bob so Bob acts as physical buffer?
Diplomacy isn't always easy, but given time and practice, the art of diplomacy can resolve and sometimes even prevent many of the conflicts we face in our everyday lives. What's in it for us? Fewer tantrums from our children, less fighting at wedding receptions, preserved relationships with coworkers, circumvented battles with our teenaged daughters and far fewer headaches for ourselves. I think it's worth the effort...do you?