Diplomacy is the art of navigating conflict while maintaining positive relationships and working with others. Diplomatic people are level-headed in turbulent times, appropriately manage their emotions, and are motivated by finding the peace more than they are motivated to prove they are right. Diplomats avoid escalated conflict by actively listening to stakeholders, helping find amenable resolutions to disagreements, and making all parties feel valued. For this reason, Diplomats need to be skilled in many of the other disciplines. It’s important to keep lines of communication open, be direct, and stay adaptable. In addition, diplomats must exercise a strong degree of control over themselves and have a knack for finding common ground between different parties.
A high score in the Diplomacy category indicates a strong degree of control over oneself, and an ability to find common ground. You understand the value of collaboration, and are willing to work to sustain a culture of teamwork. You are capable of being direct but inoffensive, and though you may not be energized by it, you can diffuse high-tension situations. Below some examples of exercises to improve your Diplomacy.
- Check in with yourself before heading into any meetings or negotiations. This takes a great deal of self-awareness and self-control. Are you harboring any negative emotions that might affect the outcome of the meeting? If so, take a couple minutes to diffuse as much of the negativity as you can. If it helps, make a list of actionable statements you can do after the meeting to solve the problem that is affecting you. Try taking a deep breath, and imagining the meeting going well. It may even be useful to prepare the first few sentences you might say, to practice a positive and collaborative tone, and to play Devil’s Advocate with yourself with tough questions, to rehearse clear and calm answers.
- Try turning your statements into questions. Questions invite your audience to think about your ideas, whereas statements can cause them to immediately defend their own position. Additionally, giving others the opportunity to talk and air their grievances can make them more open to compromise. Studies show that people view others more favorably if they feel listened to. And, by providing an ear, you can help diffuse any negative emotions they may have brought into the meeting. When it comes to your own perspective, share in an unaccusatory manner, and point out any common ground you have. In this way, you can both negotiate collaboratively as opposed to defensively.
- “Get into someone elses' 'odds are'. When I was in sales, I was taught that the 'odds are' that people are thinking about themseves and not about you. Think about a person in your project. Put yourself in his or her shoes. How is the project impacting her? What would make the project more successful from her standpoint? How might her perspective change over time? By putting yourself in her shoes, you'll better understand her reasoning. This exercise helps us see our project from different viewpoints. The ability to see the project from multiple viewpoints is a great start toward being more diplomatic.” A Sixth Sense for Project Management, Tres Roeder.
For more information about how to improve your diplomacy, see A Sixth Sense for Project Management, pg 91.
BE MINDFUL: WHY THE FACTS DON'T ALWAYS PERSUADE
Diplomacy is a multi-faceted skill. A successful diplomat must first exude mastery of many other Disciplines, including multiple kinds of awareness, comfort making Whole Body Decisions™, on-the-fly communication skills, and a great degree of adaptability. Additionally, we have to exhibit a certain degree of self-restraint and empathy, all while balancing how much we talk vs. how much we listen. Because this discipline can involve a large amount of emotional labor, it can be draining – especially if you’re not able to get your audience to see things from your perspective. One significant reason that not all conflicts end with mutual understanding is because of a mental phenomenon called the backfire effect¹.
When we experience the backfire effect, we outright refuse to accept information that counters our beliefs. But instead of simply ignoring the facts, studies have found that people dig their heels in. Depending on the topic at hand, contrary facts can make us even more certain than before that our viewpoint is right. In these instances, citations don’t change uninformed opinions – they only strengthen them. The backfire effect is most common when the topic is very personal. The more the facts threaten someone’s identity, the more likely that person is to experience the backfire effect.
Take, for example, grocery bags. If people are told that plastic bags are better for the environment than paper bags, there might be some initial resistance to the idea (especially for people who tend to use paper). But presented with enough statistics, most people would pretty quickly come around to the idea, and maybe even start using plastic more often. But grocery bags aren’t too closely tied to our identity².
WHEN IT FEELS PERSONAL
In another study, researchers looked at more closely held opinions. In 2014, participants were asked whether they believed vaccines caused autism. They were asked one follow-up question: “How certain are you of this belief?” Then, regardless of how they answered, participants were given the most recent scientific information about vaccination, clarifying that there is not a significant correlation between vaccines and autism. Before leaving, participants were asked one more time what they believed, and how certain they were of that belief. Participants who had their beliefs confirmed by the research were more certain than before. However, participants who had their beliefs challenged dug their heels in. A significant number of them continued to say that vaccines caused autism, and were now even more certain than before³.
We take in information more easily when it reinforces what we want to believe. If information doesn’t confirm our beliefs, we’re much more skeptical, and try harder to disconfirm it. Studies show that we check the scale twice if we don’t like what it says, but only once if it’s a number we like. Similarly, if a test shows we’re healthy, we move on with our lives, but if it says we’re unhealthy, we demand a re-test². Even workplace politics tend to be extremely personal. Because they can be so deeply rooted to our identity and how we perceive ourselves, we can defend these beliefs because we feel like we’re defending ourselves. Change in the office can elicit the same kind of reactions in people. Our brain that deals with rational thought is the same brain that processes our emotions. We can’t divorce the two, no matter how hard we try. Viewing ourselves as an unbiased person is, in itself, a biased thought rooted in an emotion of who we want to be as a person².
Knowing about the backfire effect can allow us to grow as people. Start to question yourself more in conversations. Do you find that you are stubborn about certain topics? Why is that? Are you listening with your head, heart, and gut? Or are you hearing only what you want to hear? There is strength in allowing yourself and your beliefs to be challenged. You are not any less intelligent for changing your opinion about something – you are simply making new decisions with new information, and growing because of it. Become more comfortable playing devil’s advocate with your own opinions, and keep an open mind when listening to other’s ideas, perspectives, and beliefs.
LOGICAL, EMOTIONAL, AND POLITICAL RESISTANCE
On the other hand, if your conversational partner is exhibiting signs of the backfire effect, your best diplomatic efforts of finding common ground may not be of any use. The research shows that there will be very little to be gained from continuously pushing facts on someone who refuses to hear them. Understand that this person is having an emotional reaction. Instead of pushing, it’s best to find another way of working together. Diplomats should recognize the difference between an emotional, political, and logical reaction, and cater their approach to fit their audience.
Knowing about the backfire effect is useful for two reasons. The first is that it can open our own minds. Staying aware of how our subconscious thoughts may shape our behavior gives us the opportunity to challenge ourselves to think beyond our preconceived notions. Secondly, it can serve as a reminder that the way you reach one person may not apply to everyone, and it’s important to stay aware of how conversational partners react to the information you offer.
¹ Kaplan, Jonas T., Gimbel, Sarah I., Harris, Sam. Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence. Nature Research Journal, 2016.
² McRaney, David. The neuroscience of changing your mind. You Are Not So Smart, 2017.
³ Nyhan, B., J. Reifler, S. Richey, and G. L. Freed. Effective Messages In Vaccine Promotion. National Institute of Health, 2006.