We all know that being diplomatic is essential for emerging leaders, but how do you go about it? With the example of my dinner conversation in Moscow, I’ll share nine principles I learned about diplomacy that will help you navigate conversations and conflicts with grace and understanding.
In 2019, I was invited to Moscow to facilitate a Partnering for Growth (PFG) workshop between The Coca-Cola Company and one of its bottlers, Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company. The two-day workshop aimed to help assimilate the teams and their new leaders into a strategic business partnership. They explored shared values, understood each other’s operating models (e.g., financial metrics and key business drivers.), clarified roles and responsibilities, and drafted common capability plans.
After the first day, I joined the two leadership teams for dinner. We ordered our first round of beverages, and then it got quiet. I asked the team what was on their mind, and they wanted to know if I was open to answering some questions about America’s political landscape. I didn’t want to offend them, so I said, “Why not?”
They asked me who I voted for in the 2016 presidential election and why. I tactfully revealed my vote and explained my rationale. Then, I wondered if they were open to some questions. In their Russian accents, they good-naturedly said, “Why not?”
I asked the group what they thought of Ronald Reagan. They thought “he was a tired old man who loved his wife.” I was stunned. I asked about Mikhail Gorbachev. They passionately told me that he sold Russia out and compromised too much. From their perspective, Russia was left in shambles after the USSR fell. They shared that Boris Yeltsin was a drunk, and they were ashamed of him. Lastly, the group shared that they loved Vladimir Putin because of the country’s status and prosperity.
Later in the evening, I offered a toast to the group, thanking them for participating in the workshop and inspiring them to do great things together. I heard a comment from an American expat who’d been working in Russia for a while, but I chose not to take it personally. Instead, I smiled, said thank you, took a sip, and sat back down.
Some workshop participants pulled me aside the following day and apologized for the political conversation. I told them that I wasn’t offended. I wanted to show that I was open to dialogue and valued their perspectives. I explained that I think it’s vital that people talk, connect, and understand each other’s points of view. We don’t do it enough in America; we are so polarized, and nothing gets done. A lot of resentment, and anger, what I call a “Civil Cold War.”
I’ll never forget my dinner conversation. I was in a foreign land, representing not only my company but also my country, and I needed to be a diplomat. Here are the nine principles I learned about diplomacy:
- Actively Listen. An important part of being diplomatic is actively listening to the other person or people. This means paying attention to what is being said and allowing the speaker to finish without judgment.
- Be Curious. Diplomacy requires an open and curious mind. Ask questions and look for understanding. Ask follow-up questions to understand the other person’s perspectives better.
- Don’t Take Offense. Diplomacy requires a thick skin, so it’s crucial not to take anything personally. Even if you disagree with the other person, remain level-headed and maintain a diplomatic attitude.
- Be Empathetic. Empathy is an integral part of diplomacy. Show understanding and compassion in your words and actions. Take the time to understand the other person’s perspective and feelings.
- Think Before You Speak. Diplomacy requires careful consideration of your words. Before speaking, take a moment to think about the situation and ask yourself what the best course of action or words are at the moment.
- Be Open to New Ideas. Diplomacy is about finding common ground and understanding different perspectives. To do this, being open to new ideas and thinking critically about your opinions is important.
- Show Respect for Culture and Customs. Be mindful of the culture and customs of the people you’re engaging with. Showing respect for these differences is a key part of being diplomatic.
- Respond with Grace. When disagreements arise, responding with grace and understanding is essential. Try to remain calm and be mindful of the other person’s feelings.
- Build Trust. Diplomacy involves building trust between two or more parties. Be honest and consistent in your words and actions to encourage the other party to trust you.
Being diplomatic is a skill that takes practice and patience. It’s important to be open to dialogue and understanding different perspectives. It takes courage to be diplomatic and engage in conversations that could be uncomfortable. When done correctly, it can lead to greater understanding, collaboration, and problem-solving. Take the time to reflect on your diplomatic skills and consider how they can be improved. Why not start by conversing with someone with a different opinion than you?> Read More
Negotiations can be challenging. Especially when it is over something emotional like buying a new home. We found a house we really liked during our move to Atlanta, but it was over-priced. After a long back and forth with a stubborn seller and a rude real estate agent, we finally agreed on a price.
It seemed that we gave a lot more than we got during the negotiation process, and I wasn’t willing to budge anymore. We went through the due diligence period and conducted an inspection. All went well until the day of closing.
Before closing, I walked through the house and noticed water damage and a big hole in the laundry room drywall. I was furious. Somehow the damage was missed in the inspection process, and the sellers didn’t disclose it to us.
This was the last straw!
I called my agent and told her I was very frustrated with the seller and agent’s unethical behavior. I demanded that the hole be fixed, or I’d delay closing. My agent conveyed the message to the seller.
Then, I went to closing.
Closing is always interesting…You have the sellers and their agent, you and your agent and the closing attorney around a big table. I’ve found that the meeting can be brief and transactional, or it can be contentious.
I had a decision to make. Would I be forceful and ensure my demands would be met, or would I try to connect with the folks in the room to help the process go smoothly?
Here’s what I wrote in my journal to record the closing events:
Before the seller and their agent arrived, I told the closing attorney that I would withhold the equity check until we got the laundry room drywall issue resolved.
The sellers and their agent came into the conference room about 30 minutes later. Obviously, the seller’s agent came loaded for bear. The first thing she said to me was, ‘okay, what’s this I hear about not signing papers until the drywall issue is resolved?’
It was the moment of decision. How would I handle this situation?
I write and talk to others about Christian leadership in our communities, workplaces, and schools. Honoring God in all that we do, being a witness, making a positive difference, treating people with dignity and respect. Would I walk the talk?
I decided to take the high road.
Walk the talk. Be who I say I am.
Connect with the people in the room.
Defuse the situation.
Immediately, I redirected the conversation, spent time complimenting the sellers on the beautiful home, and said that we loved the neighborhood.
The mood instantly lifted, and we began getting to know one another.
I discovered that they go to Johnson Ferry Baptist Church (where we attended) and their kids went to Walton High School. She worked at Publix. He went to a small college in Mississippi.
After this, I asked, “so, tell me a little bit about the laundry room.”
They profusely apologized for the water damage and non-disclosure (not sure how they missed this as they had the room re-tiled a couple of months ago). They said it should cost $100 to repair.
I said, ok. No contingency is needed.
I told them that I trusted that they would take care of it. Then the seller’s agent sat back with a sense of relief and uttered in disbelief, “thank you.”
This is an excellent example of being a Christian and treating people well. The Lord allowed me to defuse the situation quickly. This was not manipulation but understanding and connecting with people. This was a hard negotiation but no need to hold a grudge at the end of the game. As the seller put it, “it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Three Ways to Live Out Your Faith in the Real World
- Walk the Talk. Be integrous. Let your actions demonstrate your faith. Be who you say you are. Live out your Christian beliefs. The Bible says, “The integrity of the honest keeps them on track; the deviousness of crooks brings them to ruin” (Proverbs 11:3 – The Message). In a flash moment, I decided to walk the talk, to live what I believed, and it kept me on track.
- Defuse Contentious Situations. Dale Carnegie taught me that the best way to win an argument is to avoid it. To prevent molehills from becoming mountains and win people to your way of thinking, begin in a friendly way. I recommend connecting with people through compliments or humor. It’s amazing how quickly the ice breaks and tension eases. The Bible says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24 – New American Standard Bible 95). When you defuse contentious situations, it will clear the path to alignment or agreement.
- The “How” Matters More Than The “What.” How you achieve a goal is often more important than what you do to get there. How you treat people matters. Deal with others well, and you will be dealt with well. Care about others. Take a genuine interest in them, and they will reciprocate. The Bible says, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12 – New Living Translation). I always remind people that we will be remembered not for what we did but for how we treated others.
If you walk the talk, defuse contentious situations, and know that the “how” matters more than the “what,” you will become a leader others will want to follow.
Do you want to level up your leadership skills? Visit my website, prestonpoore.com, today!
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I’m a disciple of Christ and an executive at a Fortune 500 Company. In my blog, The Discipled Leader, I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work.
As a certified coach, speaker, and trainer with the John Maxwell Team, I help others grow their relationship with Christ, develop their leadership skills, and understand how they can make a positive difference in today’s chaotic world.
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I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work. I invite you to subscribe to my blog and learn how to develop Christlike character, influence your culture and change your world.