Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Fine Art of Diplomacy

Ah diplomacy; so many of us think we know what it means to be diplomatic but very few of us are actually able to carry out the mission.  The good old Merriam-Webster dictionary calls diplomacy the "art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations."  A secondary definition is having "skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility."  Living overseas, I think about both of these definitions a lot and how they affect my own daily life.  The first definition may be more likely to apply to the big guns--people who work and move in diplomatic circles on a daily basis-- but we should all take note of the second definition and do our best to practice being diplomatic in our daily lives.  After all, good manners and etiquette never go out of style.

So how do you put being diplomatic into practice?  In my opinion, it is really quite simple.  It means knowing when to ask the right questions or not to ask any at all.  It means being polite, understanding, and non-intrusive and never inserting yourself into a conversation that you have not been invited into.  (The same goes for events- if you didn't receive an invitation from the host, don't assume you are invited and definitely don't ask to be included).  Many dinners and receptions are working events and must be treated as such; rarely are they purely social opportunities since most of the people present probably wouldn't socialize with each other under other non-official circumstances.  I know the same goes for official entertaining in our own home; I may not always want to welcome our guests with open arms but I am unfailingly polite so they are never the wiser about my true feelings. Sometimes this may mean inviting a guest to dinner who I don't personally agree with but in these situations the reality is that my opinion just does not matter.  In situations like this, killing people with kindness is the way I operate and I remind myself that two wrongs just don't make a right.  As a guest it is also important to know when to leave.  You may rage past midnight at a friend's house but unless you have specifically been asked to stay longer, depart before the end time written on your invitation.  But on the same hand, don't leave too early.  Glenn and I learned this the hard way when we once, because of an issue with our babysitter, left a dinner before coffee had been served.  All of the other guests took our departure as a signal that the event had ended and quickly followed us out the door.  We never repeated that one mistake!

I know that it is equally important to be polite in all situations and if necessary, keep my personal opinions to myself  in these settings.  As an American I am acutely aware that any personal opinion I express could be construed as being that of my government and my country.  If appropriate words fail me it is always more acceptable to smile and nod rather than saying something that may offend or be misinterpreted.  I also take my cues from those around me.  Here in Albania it is common to greet people with double air kisses and both bring a small gift when a guest but also give a small gift to your guests.  These are not necessarily customs in America but when in Rome--or Tirana---we follow these leads.  In the end it is essentially a small gesture that really goes a long way. 
Above all, I remember that none of this is permanent. The dinner, reception, concert, or even our time here has an expiration date.  At the end of the day diplomacy is all about getting the work done, getting along with others and neither offending nor embarrassing yourself, your hosts, or your country.  So to quote one of my favorite cartoon characters of all time, "just smile and wave boys, just smile and wave." 

1 comment:

  1. I have read some articles from your blog, I like them very much. You shared a lot of interest experience in Albania.