Diplomacy

by teresalaynebennett

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!