Streetwise: Diplomacy in the Workplace

September 25, 2021

From our friends at Eure Consulting:

This is the eighth installment in our 25-week series exploring the 25 competencies, or soft skills, that our assessments measure. Each week we’ll give you the definition of that competency, explain its value, and give you tips to help you develop it.

This week: Diplomacy.

Diplomacy is not just used in politics. It is an important skill in the business world as well. We define Diplomacy as the ability to effectively and tactfully handle difficult or sensitive issues. It is being able to navigate relationships, conflicts, and workplace issues and knowing how to handle yourself in a variety of situations and not lose your cool.

A person with good capabilities in Diplomacy will tend to look at all facts openly. And will look at others without allowing a class or other group identification to bias a judgment or decision. They will be aware that other people don’t have the same cultural heritage, background, or lifestyle and will be accepting of that fact. They will work with each individual as an individual. And tailor their approach accordingly. Making sure that they set themselves up for success by adapting their behaviors and tactics appropriately.

In contrast, a person with poor skills in Diplomacy may tend to identify other people in terms of particular class groups. Allowing this identification to predetermine how he or she will react to them. This predetermination will influence their decision regarding that person, regardless of the fact that there is no supporting evidence or basis for such decisions.

Assumptions you make about others based on superficial characteristics can hurt others and reflect poorly on you.

Making pre-judgments based on characteristics such as race, gender, or even hierarchical position within your workplace are only based on stereotypes. And don’t take into account the uniqueness of each individual you meet. Every new person you meet is just that, a new person.

Those skilled in Diplomacy are able to reserve their judgments about people or issues and look at the facts of the situation. This helps them to be objective and keep the situation at an arm’s length. From this distance, they are better able to see all possible solutions and options giving them a higher likelihood of bringing the issue to a satisfactory close. I say satisfactory because those skilled in Diplomacy aren’t looking for just any solution. They are searching for a solution that will be beneficial to all parties involved.

Diplomacy is vitally important in our ever more diverse and global economy. Being able to effectively work with and navigate relationships with those that may have a different background is paramount to continued success. Being skilled in Diplomacy brings the ability to influence many different parties to make sure that interactions are always productive and fruitful.

Every day we are influenced by people, places, events, and situations. We are continually being influenced by what happens around us. A person with strong Diplomacy skills is good at influencing people just about all of the time. This may be in the form of gaining support, inspiring others, persuading other people to become their champions, engaging someone’s imagination, or creating relationships.

On the other hand, someone who doesn’t possess good skills in this capacity may try to exert influence through coercion and manipulation. This isn’t true influence, but rather just forcing people to do what you want. Often against their will. And it doesn’t work!

To improve your Diplomacy, work to overcome your implicit biases.

Implicit biases are biases that we aren’t consciously aware of. They are the gut reactions we have to people or situations and they are generally based on stereotypes. We have these reactions before we are even aware that they are happening. They’ve been ingrained in us by society, by our family, by our friends, and by our experiences.

In order to overcome these automatic reactions, you have to start catching them. And then questioning them. The next time you make a snap judgment about someone, ask yourself why you had that thought. What stereotype are you pulling from? What is it about that person that made you think that? Where did you pick up that association?

Implicit bias is, and always will be, present in our everyday lives. But we don’t have to let it control our thoughts and actions. It is a constant battle, but you can start to counteract these neural pathways.

A good first step is to start to diversify the content that you consume. Try expanding the types of shows and movies you watch. Or music that you listen to. Or books that you read. If you’re a social media person you can start to follow accounts of creators that have a different background than you. By opening yourself to learning about new perspectives and experiences, you’ll tear down stereotypes and be better able to see people as individuals.

Diplomacy is about working well with others even in tense situations.

At its core, that’s what it boils down to. Are you able to effectively work with and influence others? We live in an increasingly connected world where you have to work with more and more individuals than ever before. Work just doesn’t get done in the same way that it used to. You have to rely on your Diplomacy skills every day now.

That interconnectedness can quickly lead to conflict if you aren’t tuned in to the differences that people bring to the workplace. You can’t apply a one-size-fits-all approach and expect to get the results you want. You have to be aware of and sensitive to the needs of each group that you are trying to influence. What do they care about and why? What do you have to offer them that can make their lives easier or better? Work to find a win-win solution for all involved.

Never forget that there is always more than one way to look at a situation. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them less intelligent, less able, or even less right than you. When working with others, and especially when trying to influence them, make sure to treat each person with the respect that they deserve. Every human being has something of value to offer. Make it your job to find out what that is.