Friday, August 25, 2006

Diplomacy 101

I don't discount the importance of straight talk, but there are times when another approach is appropriate. Here are some tips on diplomacy that I've developed over the years:

Don’t underestimate your ability to wound others with your remarks. The adage, “Sticks and bones may break my bones but words will never harm me,” is wrong. People recall painful words many years after they were uttered.

You are not required to have an opinion on everything. It is possible to live a rich and full life without having an opinion on photo radar, vegetarianism, or the Bolivian economy. In fact, we need more people in the workplace who embrace the beauty of the unexpressed thought.

Not every statement deserves a response. This is especially so when the statement has been made to provoke or irritate. In many cases, indifference is the best reaction that you can give to the obnoxious.

Buying time makes sense. Unless it is a subject where it is reasonable to have a stance there is nothing wrong with saying, “Let me think about that.”

Put "noncommittal" in your arsenal. Expressions such as “That’s interesting” and “I’ve never heard that before” were designed to permit you to say something while saying nothing of real substance. Always have them within reach.

Remember the power of the small gesture. Unnecessary kindnesses – and slights - can be remembered long after the bold action has been forgotten.

Use your wit as a shield. Your witty put-down may be seen by others as a cruel jab. Unless carried to excess, wit is a great defense mechanism but remember, the most endearing humor is self-deprecating.

Don’t exceed your portfolio. If your job involves marketing, be wary of offering opinions on production.

It is better to understate than to overstate. Once caught in an overstatement, your entire position may lose credibility. You gain credibility, however, if caught in an understatement.

Remember that people are secretly hurting. The old friend who seems to have everything together, the co-worker who is so diligent and cheerful, and the relative who always has a good word – all may be carrying burdens that you cannot begin to suspect.

Finally, don’t look at the world through a mirror. Your interpretation may not be shared by the other person. Clear and painless communication becomes almost impossible if we assume that our reaction is the only normal one.

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