Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: August, 2015


black and white sketch of shaking hands

Diplomacy is a lost art. Actually, you can’t lose something you never had so it’s a just a word in the dictionary for most of us. We never owned it and aren’t likely to if we don’t change our ways.

Yet, it’s a skill which can make such incredible differences for people, as well as nations. Most of us know this and would like to possess the skill of diplomacy. But we shrug our shoulders and proffer the excuse, “I’m not a diplomat. I just say it like it is,” and breeze through life as if our statement somehow makes sense.

The Suits
and the Rest of Us

I don’t know about you but when I hear the word diplomacy, I immediately think of “INTERNATIONAL Diplomacy.” Serious, high-powered stuff. Men in custom-tailored, pinstriped power suits; white, drycleaner-starched shirts; expensive and oh-so-discreet silk ties and scarves pop into my head. You know – the men and women who play their cards close to the vest and get everyone to play nice in the sandbox of international politics.

And I think, I’m not in that league and never have been, thank goodness.

It took me a very long time – longer than I’m going to admit (because I wasn’t paying attention) – to realize that sort of thinking is one of the things that’s wrong with our world. Thinking that the practice of diplomacy is limited to the version used at the skyscraper levels of international politics and that it’s necessary only when the stakes are at nuclear-war height is dangerously myopic.

In fact, we could put The Suits out of business if each of us down here on the lowly plains would practice diplomacy with our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and everyone else who crosses our paths. If people in each country learned how to practice diplomacy and get along, their countries would effortlessly practice diplomacy and get along. We’d put a whole profession out of business.

But we don’t, and we’re not. Rare is the person who consistently and regularly practices diplomacy. I’ve known quite a lot of people in my almost-70 years, and I’ve known less than half a dozen of your everyday, garden-variety diplomat. Why is that? Why are we so pitifully deficient in this lost art? Well, here’s what I’ve learned from watching that handful.

You thought I’d never get here, didn’t you? So pay attention: it’s all about…

Think Time

The down-here-on-the-plains diplomats that I know take advantage of every moment of quiet and isolation from the very people on whom they must practice their craft. In those quiet moments – drive time, mass commuting time, waiting-in-line time, true “downtime” – they think on the sticky wickets of life. They think:

  • on the players,
  • what they know about them,
  • why they’re acting the way they are,
  • what would make them more willing to comply, collaborate, and cooperate.

They think on how to say and do the things that will bring about that elusive win-win solution.

They think, and they think, and they think. They turn over an issue as if it were an object they could hold in their hands. They examine it from every direction, and then they hash out a productive scenario. Then they rehearse that scenario. I happen to have been quite close to a couple of these diplomats, and I’ve actually heard them rehearse – just as if they were rehearsing lines for a play – in their offices and private places.

Thinking what a lot of time this must take? You’re right. Thinking you don’t have time for that much thinking? Give me a break. We all have the same amount of time that these diplomats do. It’s all a matter of what’s important to us and how we decide to spend our time to include what’s important to us.

The Painful Part

Want to learn the art of diplomacy and decrease the friction in your life – and the lives of those around you? Look for those times when you can choose quiet and isolation over the blather of mindless movies, vacuous videos, chillingly vulgar CDs, cell-phone chatter, and radio waves that radiate ill will.

Yes, it will be painful at first (don’t I know it!), as we’re not big on “wasting” time just thinking in this country. Learning to do something we don’t normally do can be awkward and painful – at first. Do it anyway; the pain lasts for only a little while.

Trust me: you’ll come to love quiet and solitude as you park yourself away from people and mull over the issues that are causing such angst among the people in your life. And when you give yourself the necessary time to think it all through, you’ll love finding that you have a pretty decent plan in the works and some surprisingly tactful words coming to mind.

Pay attention: cultivating the art of diplomacy is done in quiet and isolation, then artfully practiced in the marketplace of life.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford

Don’t be one of the “few.” Think. THINK!

Monitor your relationships to protect your self-worth.

painting of Napoleon Bonaparte on horse

Napoleon, The Arrogant, (aka, Bonaparte)

FYI: though a little like Magic Bullet #4 about relationships, this post takes off in a slightly different direction.

Lots of words have been written about the topic of self-worth. Here’s the deal: as I said when I began this blog, I’m not a psychiatrist, and I’m not a psychologist. I don’t even have an M.A. in counseling. Lacking all those credentials, this blog post will, of necessity, be short and to the point. (No intellectual crowbars needed.) I’m simply telling you what I’ve observed from 65-plus years of living among people.

Here’s more good news. If you’re reasonably well-adjusted, it isn’t as complicated as some would claim. In fact, it’s actually corner-of-the-eye stuff – stuff way out on those outer edges that you know and don’t realize you know.

The Point, in a Nutshell

Here’s the gist of my admittedly amateurish observations.

  • People who think too little of themselves (despite all their bravado and self-assertiveness), come across as arrogant – routinely belittling and tearing others down.
  • People who think too highly of themselves also come across as arrogant – routinely belittling and tearing others down.

Ironic, isn’t it? Two different problems, two very different reasons, resulting in the same Napoleonic behavior. Some mental health professionals might argue that almost all people who habitually tear down others really fit into the first group and that only a few, e.g., narcissists, can accurately fit into the second group.


I say we maintain good emotional health by observing emotionally healthy people – not the sick ones. The people I’ve known who are able to laud and acknowledge others and their accomplishments have a humble but healthy view of themselves and their own accomplishments. In fact, I think they’re able to appreciate others and others’ accomplishments precisely because they’re able to appreciate themselves and their own accomplishments.

So what’s
the pay-attention lesson here?
Hanging with
emotionally healthy people
helps you develop
your own healthy self-worth.

When you monitor your relationships, you’ll find you have some friends or family members who routinely tear you down. Regardless of how deftly they do it or how cleverly they disguise it, sit up and pay attention. If you know them well enough, you might be able to determine into which group they belong, but then what?

Trust me, I’ve spent hours trying to figure out why certain people in my life just could not give me credit for blowing my nose. Not until I was well into my fifties did it occur to me that this was not time well spent. That’s because even when I could pin down the most likely cause for their tearing-down tendencies, I couldn’t do much about it.

Regardless of the cause, this behavior is a character flaw that only the individual herself can work on. And have you noticed when we have in-your-face character flaws we don’t, as a rule, go ’round asking for help with our character flaws? Offering help when none is requested is usually a waste of perfectly good information, not to mention emotional energy. Those who will not help themselves cannot be helped by others. I’ve learned this little tidbit the hard way, too.

Besides, as I’ll keep saying, I’m not a trained mental health counselor. Even if a friend were to ask for help with an out-sized character flaw, I’m not sure I could be terribly helpful or effective. Unless you’re a trained mental health counselor, you probably can’t either. Just recognize you’re out of your depth and guide people like this to someone who can help them. Meanwhile, studiously avoid them whenever possible.*

Yikes. That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Some of life’s realities are harsh. How about this one? People who routinely tear you down are NOT your friends. So pay attention to your relationships: determine which people you should avoid and which people you should keep in your life – the ones who will make up the central core of your life. Choose those humble, yet emotionally healthy, people who can laud themselves and others. You’ll learn a ton about how to like yourself and others just from hanging with them. And guess what? It’s a process. (See Process Three.)

* Have you also noticed that most of us keep hanging in there with the tear-downers way longer than we should? Give it up. Let the pros handle the carpers and harpers in your life. That responsibility is most likely waaay above your pay grade. It’s for sure above mine.

© 2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “He who is humble is confident and wise. He who brags is insecure and lacking.” –Lisa Edmonson

Arrogance produces bragging and belittling.

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