Saturday, June 2, 2012

Career Secret #9: Practice The Art Of Diplomacy

Successful people always say what they mean, but in a way that it can be heard. The higher your career advances, the more important this becomes, whether you are coaching a subordinate, having a difficult conversation with your boss or firing someone. 

Diplomacy is simply a neutral and polite way of reframing your unedited thoughts.  And while the concepts themselves are simple, real diplomacy takes restraint, focus and practice.  No amount of hard work can substitute for this skill. 

Yes, I know, I know.

'Sometimes people need me to be blunt'
'I'm known for being outspoken'
'Aren't leaders supposed to be honest?'

Of course, honesty is important, and I'm not suggesting for a minute that you forfeit the truth when dealing with your colleagues.  However, outspoken and blunt responses will win you the label of 'loose cannon,' limiting your opportunities. Brutal honesty is a rookie mistake that is guaranteed to slow your career progression. 

With a little practice, anything - and I mean anything - can be said tactfully.  Especially when you feel annoyed. Here are a few examples of how to respond diplomatically when the dialogue in your head is reflecting your irritation, but you need to keep an open mind:

'How interesting' = I cannot believe you just said that

'Can you be more specific?' = What the hell are you talking about?

'What exactly does that look like?' = You're still not making any sense

'I've never noticed that' = That's got to be the dumbest thing I've ever heard

'Huh' = God, you're boring

'You could be right' = I don't care enough about this issue to argue with you

'Oh, my gosh' = You're shitting me, right?

'Let me give that some thought' = There's no way that's going to happen

'Put your mind at ease' = Stop being a drama queen

'What will you do next?' = This is your problem to solve, not mine

'Wow' = Dude, really?

With these responses, you're not lying and no one is insulted. You are, however, being present in the moment and effectively managing your own judgments.  Later, you can decide whether or not the conversation merits any more of your attention.  If it does, you have the time to craft a thoughtful, objective response.

Unforeseen Challenge:  After having a conversation that requires diplomatic restraint, especially if you are just learning this skill, you may be tempted to vent to a colleague to blow off some steam.  This can damage your career in a couple of key ways.  First, it will communicate that you cannot be trusted because you are talking behind someone's back.  Second, it creates tension in the environment and makes it harder for you to let go of the small stuff, which will only hold you back.  As stated in earlier Career Secrets, if you must vent afterward, talk to your partner, an objective friend outside of work or your therapist.

And by all means, let go of the small stuff.

Mastering the art of diplomacy will show everyone that you can be trusted to perform well when the stakes are high and the results really matter.  So figure out how to respond to anything at all in a way that respects your audience, presents your thoughts in their best light and continues to ignite your career.

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  1. Yea! You are back...this series is excellent, and you have much wisdom to share. Rock on my savvy sister!

  2. This is so wonderful--thanks! I am going to print it out and put it in a hidden spot in my office so I can study it from time to time. It will come in handy for me, as I often speak before thinking. :-)

  3. Hi Mermaid - thanks for your support and's much appreciated!

  4. queen_cupcake, good to see you! I'm glad you found this post helpful - thanks for your comment!

  5. Successful people always see on up stair and struggle to achieve target. Step by step, make effective policy and research helps to step forward in life.



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