When you hear the word “diplomacy,” you likely think politics. However, in every day and in every relationship you have personally and professionally, you need to use it.
Negotiating a deal. Talking to a coworker about a performance issue. Discussing holiday plans with your family. All of these require careful handling of sensitive issues by using tact and understanding all of the dynamics that can affect the outcome.
Lately, we seem to be less understanding of others’ opinions, feelings or culture, if social media is any gauge. We’re becoming less tactful and less informed about other people’s social or political views, and that can spell disaster for anyone who’s got aspirations of being successful.
Before I walk through what diplomacy is and the skills you can hone to improve your ability to handle sensitive situations, let’s be clear on what it is NOT:
• Promising something to avoid conflict, not knowing if you can deliver on that promise
• Compromising your principles or ethics just to make the other party happy
• Passing the responsibility for resolution off on someone else
Utilizes tact in working with people across hierarchical, functional and/or cultural borders.
Simply put, diplomacy is most needed when you have worlds colliding:
• Family-owned businesses where you’re speaking with both father and son, who have their own generational issues and perspectives;
• Differing departments that have competing or opposing needs
• Coworkers or clients who have cultural expectations that can require them to work differently from each other
We live in a world that is getting smaller by the day. We will work alongside people from completely different upbringings, faith traditions and political views, and oftentimes those perspectives can cause friction and misunderstanding. If you’ve mastered the art of diplomacy in these situations, you will walk into the conversation already knowing what each person values and needs, and you will know how to communicate with them in order for everyone to feel like they have been heard.
Adapts conduct and communications to "politically correct" standards.
Similar to what I’ve just mentioned about our ever-shrinking world, diplomacy demands respect of other cultures. Words have meaning, and when you don’t do your homework to understand what words and terms to avoid, you can end up offending someone. In a coworker situation, that’s an uncomfortable conversation to make things right. In a sales situation, it can cost you a client, and possibly potential clients if word gets around.
Effectively builds and leverages networks of influence to get things done.
To be clear, this isn’t about strong-arming your way to get a result. Instead, it’s about doing your homework, investing the time and making connections with people who can make the big decisions. When you’re negotiating with a client, for example, and you can honestly say that your network includes heads of companies, you’re likely to be more successful in closing because they will have greater confidence in you being able to deliver, and deliver for a better price. Having those strong allies also speaks to your own credibility with those you do business with, which gives you more leverage in discussions.
Perhaps you’re trying to get something accomplished with a client. The person you are talking to may not have the permission or authority to make a decision, but if you have cultivated relationships with others in that company who do, it’s possible you can offer to approach that decision maker with your client in order to present your discussion. If you have already established a relationship of trust with that person, you and your client will more likely get a nod to move forward and close the deal.
Is sensitive to the needs of "special interest" groups within organizations.
Let’s say you have a project to complete, and the deadline is short. If you have multiple departments that you are working with, everyone will most likely lobby to have a piece of that schedule in order to complete the task. But Department A is claiming that Department B shouldn’t have as much time as they do, and would like to have an extra day. You realize that Department A won’t be happy about giving up a day from their schedule, so you need to make sure you are communicating with both in order to understand their unique requirements to complete their jobs well.
If you are a true diplomat, you are having these conversations together with each department, so that all parties hear what the other is saying. Then you might point out possible compromises or ways to eliminate work in order to make sure each feels like their schedule will work, and that no quality is sacrificed in the meantime. As the person to resolve their issue, you also have shown respect to both parties, and hopefully have earned some leverage later in the process when you may need a favor as well.
Provides advice, counsel and mentoring on organizational issues
This is the part where it’s really not about you. This is where you show real concern and understanding of an issue, and bring some fresh perspective to it in order to help the other parties come to an agreement. Maybe it’s a past experience you can share, or background knowledge you have on a subject that no one has brought into the discussion that is relevant.
In this instance, you are playing the role of mentor, consultant, advisor and educator. This is far more successful that if you are being viewed as just another person in the discussion that wants something. In sales it’s a part of qualifying....if you’re there when you know you won’t get anything from it, you will be sought out when you can get something out of a deal.
Utilizes both formal and informal networks internally to obtain support and achieve results
Before you walk into a negotiation, know who you can enlist to support you and help make your case for you. Perhaps it’s someone who knows you and your client or coworker, someone who has seen your work and can vouch for you and your expertise. Your support network may also serve the other person that you’re negotiating with. In an unthreatening way, they can surround that person to encourage them to listen to your proposal or agree to your request.
Expresses the context of a situation in a non-confrontational or positive manner
People tend to be defensive, especially if they aren't familiar with you or your work. So, when you’re asking for something, don’t simply ask for it. Paint the picture that puts your request into perspective, putting a positive attitude forward, always.
For example, let’s say you have a potential client that you would like to sell products to. They currently purchase products that are less expensive, so you know you can’t promise a savings. What you can do is explain and educate them on the difference in features, quality, etc., of the current products they’re buying and how they may have a negative long-term result (shorter life, more frequent replacement, etc.) on their company. You are there to provide a higher quality product, save expense on replacement and downtime, etc. Done well, you’ve exhibited your knowledge and understanding of their marketplace, their pain points and how it can be solved.
Diplomacy skills take time and work to perfect, but are invaluable to not simply get what you want, but to get results that are going to give everyone a sense of satisfaction. It allows you to maintain relationships longer because no one feels like they’ve been on the short end of the deal, and they’re likely to continue working with you. When it’s far easier to maintain an existing relationship than it is to create new ones, diplomacy is the tool to make sure your time and energy is well spent.