How to Be More Diplomatic

Learn practical tips to be a diplomatic communicator.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #82

Tip #2: Choose Your Words Carefully

It’s not what you say; it’s what people hear.

As I mentioned in part one, no one likes their work or ideas to be rejected. My father used to say, “Lisa, you don’t have to say ‘it’s white,’ when instead you could say, ‘It’s not black.’”  What he was trying to convey to me was that word choice is extremely important to perceptions.

Of course, politicians understand this quite well. Some say “drilling for oil” whereas others say “exploring for energy.” Some say “not giving emergency care to illegal aliens” whereas others say “denying healthcare to undocumented workers.” In fact, the subtitle from political consultant, Frank Luntz’s book, Words that Work, sums it nicely: “It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” 

When giving feedback, avoid aggressive language like, “You have to…”, “Always...,” “Never…” Instead try indirect language, like “You might consider,” “I think it might be stronger if…,” and “It looks like.” Another strategy is to give your feedback in the form of a question: “Have you thought of changing…” “Would you consider doing this…” Diplomatic communicators think, re-think, and then think more about the words they choose to communicate their ideas. Words are that important and powerful.

Tip #3 Listen, Think, and Be Open

I’ll never forget my worst moment as a manager. I actually said, “You need to do it because I’m your manager and I told you to do it.”  I’ll never forget the look on Tom’s face. I immediately realized my mistake. I wasn’t listening.  I hadn’t respected his needs, wants, and feelings, or accepted that his viewpoint was different from mine. Although I knew that I would achieve the short-term result that I was after, clearly I had severely damaged the relationship. I didn’t think; I just reacted. I let my emotions get the best of me. The lesson I learned was to listen, think, and be open.  Diplomatic communicators avoid blurting out something they later might regret.  A diplomatic communicator consciously chooses if, when, how, and where to disagree. After all, most conflicts don’t just suddenly crop up. 

But what if you are feeling offended or angry? It’s important to take a step back, to take a moment to as objectively as possible assess the situation.  As you may know, I’m a fan of deep breathing.  Many times, I’ll say to myself, “Lisa, breathe, just breathe”. Another option is to suggest a short break.

Tip #4 Relax Your Body and Your Face

Being a diplomatic communicator means you are able to appear relaxed even when you may not be. Your body language communicates a tremendous amount, so it’s important to be relaxed, to be calm, and to have a conversational tone voice.  For those of you that have expressive faces, you’ll need to practice maintaining eye contact with a neutral but pleasant facial expression.  Remember to relax any parts of your body that can become tense during difficult discussions, like your hands, shoulders and brows. And finally, avoid waving your hands or pointing at someone, because this is at a minimum distracting, but could be perceived as aggressive.

The good news is that diplomacy can be cultivated and practice definitely helps. You should practice diplomacy wherever you go. Remember mental practice is also helpful.  So your homework for this article is to think about a recent conflict or situation that perhaps could have been handled better.  How you could have flexed your communication style.  What word choices might have been better? Were you listening and open to the ideas of the other person? Was your body and face relaxed?

Use today’s tips to imagine how you could have resolved it in a more diplomatic way. 

This is, Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker. Passionate about communication, your success is my business.

P.S.  I just wanted to mention that I had a really hard time writing this artticle, so clearly, I am STILL struggling with diplomatic communication! 

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If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.

People Talking image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.