This article is excerpted from the book Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success (Oct. 2011)
In this excerpt from her book, Alexandra Levit tells a cautionary tale in which a worker exacerbated a challenging workplace situation through poor diplomacy. She then offers four keys to successful workplace diplomacy.
Forty-one-year-old Rob Bedell isn’t really from anywhere. He was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and educated at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. And he was once a rising star. “I worked for a weekly newspaper group for many years, starting as a regular grunt in the classified sales department,” he says. “My management saw that I had promise, and they promoted me to manager.”
Except Rob had a problem. He didn’t respect his boss. “He got into his position because he inherited it, not because of his sales or interpersonal skills,” Rob remembers. “He ruled with an iron fist, and it wasn’t motivating our staff. I decided to tell him my concerns, and admittedly, I didn’t set the conversation up properly. Instead of trying to find out more about why he was doing things this way, I criticized him and he got defensive.”
Rob’s relationship with his boss continued to deteriorate, and then one evening, Rob’s mother was in a car accident. She wasn’t injured, but Rob had to deal with the fallout and e-mailed his boss to say that he would be in late. Rob’s manager alerted the rest of the staff by e-mail, adding snidely that he didn’t understand why Rob was missing work since his mother was all right.
Rob forwarded his boss’ message to the organization’s top dog, the publisher. “I said that I thought my boss’ e-mail was completely inappropriate, and that perhaps he would have preferred if my mother was seriously hurt,” he says. “My boss found out and barged into my office, accusing me of trying to get him fired. I told him that he was handling that quite well all by himself.”
Rob’s lack of diplomacy turned an already difficult situation into an intolerable one. Even though his boss was partly in the wrong, Rob didn’t do himself or his staff any favors by provoking him. The truth is, you will always encounter people you don’t like at work. What separates successful careerists from lackluster ones is the ability to get along despite inevitable personality clashes.
The hallmark of the diplomatic person is assertiveness, or readily expressing your views while respecting the opinions and dignity of others. Diplomatic people recognize that they are most likely to get their own needs met if they can communicate their goals without evoking hostility in the other party. They are tactful, which means they have the ability to get across potentially hurtful information to another person without offending him or her. Here’s how they do it:
- They approach negotiations from a win/win perspective: In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says that if you want another person to cooperate with you, first analyze what he wants and then communicate how working with you can help him get it (i.e., you win, and they win).
- They problem-solve rather than spar: Diplomatic individuals lay out the scenario calmly and solicit the other person’s help in finding the best solution. They listen carefully to the other person’s feedback without interrupting and ask questions for clarification.
- They are tolerant of opposing points of view: Diplomatic employees respect that they may not always see eye-to-eye with other people, so they don’t waste time and energy forming judgments about their co-workers. In conversations in which a fundamental difference of opinion is at play, they use facts to support their ideas and use non-accusatory language such as “I think that…” or “it seems that…” rather than “you think that…” or “you always…”
- They use positive body language: Diplomatic people maintain an even, audible tone when they speak. They relax their body and keep an appropriate distance away from the people with whom they’re conversing. They always make eye contact.
Final Thoughts on Workplace Diplomacy
Diplomatic workers are the individuals who can come out of necessary and frank conversations with their reputation intact. Following the suggestions in this article can help you become one of those individuals.