David Wray

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Diplomacy Works Brilliantly in Business!

What is diplomacy, exactly?

Diplomacy is the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and tactful way (Cambridge dictionary). The same tactics that are used to solve big world issues such as trade, economics, environment, and human rights, can solve everyday business issues.

Business diplomacy includes the ability to understand the feelings, ideas, beliefs, and opinions of others. Making it a valuable skill for professionals at all levels of the organization. That is because workplace relationships are strengthened when we can decrease the degree of negative emotional responses to hearing unfavourable news or feedback.

Diplomacy depends on some advanced strategies, including superrationality which is a technique used to solve strategic dilemmas where each party needs to go beyond their own self-interest to find a resolution. This technique differs from traditional game theory where each party will act in their own self-interest (and often collectively lose out in the process). 

Some of the diplomatic strategies used in business are advocacy, buying time, ignoring imposed constraints, building golden bridges, your ideas become their ideas, saving face, and preparing them for the win.

Fantastic, but what techniques give us the biggest bang for our efforts?

Diplomacy in business workplaces

Diplomacy always starts with active listening. Listening to the ideas of others, particularly when they differ from our own, and asking questions to get a full understanding. This approach displays an openness and a willingness to learn. When we disagree, we outline in an uncritical way the specific reasons why we do. This will set the groundwork for working towards a solution rather than simply preserving our own point of view.

Diplomacy helps when we need to reconcile both sides of a story into a mutually supported outcome. For example, if a colleague disagrees with a particular team strategy it’s important to display support and encouragement for the colleague. We will look for opportunities to create compromise by allowing ourselves to be open to dichotomous feedback or ideas. Negotiation then seeks to find paths where both parties emerge with a win (a golden bridge).

Business diplomacy also proves effective when workplace communication turns negative, and we need to turn the situation around. Buying time can be helpful allowing individuals to cool off for a short period of time and avoiding further escalations. When bringing the individuals back together, focusing the dialogue on problem-solving, not finger-pointing is critical. In these moments, nonverbal communication is essential: maintain composure!

Let’s delve into one aspect a little more in this BLOG (and save others for future ones). 

Saving face, diplomacy’s magic pen

A loss of face in diplomacy is disastrous. It happens when individuals are publicly criticized or challenged. It also occurs, and creeps into business, when we openly lose our temper, confront, or fail to show respect. Effectively we shut down avenues that could help others say “yes”.

Helping an individual save face can go a long way to creating, not only goodwill but also workplace balance. At its core, it’s a way of connecting with others, building bridges, and establishing trust.

For example, imagine that you are negotiating a contract. The party with whom you are negotiating makes an unreasonable additional demand. Saving face in this context requires us to calm the negotiation and open the dialogue into mutually beneficial areas. If the demand is unreasonable or aggressive, we can link back to our mutual goal (e.g.: a collaborative contract to co-build a smart car) instead of responding with similar levels of confrontation. This makes it easier for the other party to adjust their position during the negotiation without feeling as though they backed down from a worthy fight.

How might this look? 

You might open with: “I’m happy to hear you want to avoid a contract negotiation impasse, that’s our goal too”. From here, we can build on this olive branch. We can create opportunities satisfying our needs while allowing the other party to feel their negotiating concessions are good ones under the circumstances.

This approach reinforces that we’re willing to work towards a mutually beneficial outcome, allowing the other party to walk away with their dignity intact. This might just be the key to saving a business negotiation.

Final diplomatic thoughts…

Any steps to hide or mask our own mistakes are completely incompatible with a tactful, diplomatic workplace. In those moments, it is best to simply apologize with sincerity and quickly. Then, remember to take action to fix the consequences of your mistake and put steps in place to prevent a recurrence.

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your views on using diplomacy in the workplace -useful or useless? What are your negotiating techniques?

Give it a try!

Credit for the cartoon image: Brian McFadden

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