The Art of Diplomacy

We tend to associate diplomacy with embassies, international relations and high politcs. But it really refers to a set of skills that matter in many
areas of daily life, especially at the office and on the landing, outside the slammed doors
of loved ones’ bedrooms. Diplomacy is the art of advancing an idea or cause without
unnecessarily inflaming passions or unleashing a catastrophe. It involves an understanding
of the many facets of human nature that can undermine agreement and stoke conflict, and
a commitment to unpicking these with foresight and grace. The diplomat remembers, first and
foremost, that some of the vehemence with which we can insist on having our way draws
energy from an overall sense of not being respected or heard within a relationship.
We will fight with particular tenacity and apparent meanness over a so-called small point
when we have a sense that the other person has failed to honour our wider need for appreciation
and esteem. Behind our fierce way of arguing may lie a frustrated plea for affection. Diplomats
know the intensity with which humans crave respect and so though they may not always
be able to agree with us, they take the trouble to show that they have bothered to see how
things look through our eyes. They recognise that it is almost as important to people to
feel heard, as to win their case. We’ll put up with a lot once someone has demonstrated
that they at least know how we feel. Diplomats therefore put extraordinary effort into securing
the health of the overall relationship so that smaller points can be conceded along
the way without attracting feelings of untenable humiliation. They know how much beneath pitched
fights over money or entitlements, schedules or procedures, a demand for esteem can stir.
They are careful to trade generously in emotional currency, so as not always to have to pay
excessively in other, more practical denominations. Frequently, what is at stake within a negotiation
with someone is a request that they change in some way: that they learn to be more punctual,
or take more trouble on a task, that they be less defensive or more open-minded. The
diplomat knows how futile it is to state these wishes too directly. They know the vast difference
between having a correct diagnosis of how someone needs to grow and a relevant way to
help them do so. They know too that what holds people back from evolution is fear – and
therefore grasp that what we may most need to offer those whom we want to acknowledge
difficult things is, above anything else, love and reassurance. It helps greatly to
know that those recommending change are not speaking from a position of impregnable perfection
but are themselves wrestling with comparable demons in other areas. For a diagnosis not
to sound like mere criticism, it helps for it to be delivered by someone with no compunctions
to owning up to their own shortcomings. There can be few more successful pedagogic moves
than to confess genially from the outset, ‘And I am, of course, entirely mad as well…’’
In negotiations, the diplomat is not addicted to indiscriminate or heroic truth telling.
They appreciate the legitimate place that minor lies can occupy in the service of greater
truths. They know that if certain local facts are emphasised, then the most important principles
in a relationship may be forever undermined. So they will enthusiastically say that the
financial report or the homemade cake were really very pleasing and will do so not to
deceive but to affirm the truth of their overall attachment, which might be be lost were a
completely accurate account of their feelings to be laid out. Diplomats know that a small
lie may have to be the guardian of a big truth. They appreciate their own resistance to the
unvarnished facts – and privately hope that others may on occasion, over certain matters,
also take the trouble to lie to them, and that they will never know. Another trait of
the diplomat is to be serene in the face of obviously bad behaviour: a sudden loss of
temper, a wild accusation, a very mean remark. They don’t take it personally – even when
they may be the target of rage. They reach instinctively for reasonable explanations
and have clearly in their minds the better moments of a currently frantic but essentially
loveable person. They know themselves well enough to understand that abandonments of
perspective are both hugely normal and usually indicative of nothing much beyond exhaustion
or passing despair. They do not aggravate a febrile situation through self-righteousness,
which is a symptom of not knowing oneself too well – and of having a very selective
memory. The person who bangs a fist on the table or announces extravagant opinions may
simply be rather worried, frightened or just very enthusiastic: conditions that should
rightly invite sympathy rather than disgust. At the same time, the diplomat understands
that there are moments to sidestep direct engagement. They do not try to teach a lesson
whenever it might first or most apply: they wait till it has the best chance of being
heard. At points, they disarm difficult people by reacting in unexpected ways. In the face
of a tirade, instead of going on the defensive, the diplomatic person might suggest some lunch.
When a harshly unfair criticism is launched at them, they might nod in partial agreement
and declare that they’ve often said such things to themselves. They give a lot of ground
away and avoid getting cornered in arguments that distract from the deeper issues. They
remember the presence of a better version of what might be a somewhat unfortunate individual
currently on display. The diplomat’s tone of reasonableness is built, fundamentally,
on a base of deep pessimism. They know what the human animal is, they understand how many
problems are going to beset even a very good marriage, business, friendship or society.
Their good humoured way of greeting problems is a symptom of having swallowed a healthy
measure of sadness from the outset. They have given up on the ideal, not out of weakness
but out of a mature readiness to see compromise as a necessary requirement for getting by
in a radically imperfect world. The diplomat may be polite, but they are not for that matter
averse to delivering bits of bad news with uncommon frankness. Too often, we seek to
preserve our image in the eyes of others by tiptoeing around the harsh decisions – and
thereby make things far worse than they need to be. We should say that we’re leaving
them, that they’re fired, that their pet project isn’t going ahead, but we mutter
instead that we’re a little preoccupied at the moment, that we’re delighted by their
performance and that the project is being actively discussed by the senior team. We
mistake leaving some room for hope with kindness. But true niceness does not mean seeming nice,
it means helping the people we are going to disappoint to adjust as best they can to reality.
By administering a sharp, clean blow, the diplomatic person kills off the torture of
hope, accepting the frustration that’s likely to come their way: the diplomat is kind enough
to let themselves be the target of hate. The diplomat succeeds because they are a realist;
they know we are inherently flawed, unreasonable, anxious, comedically absurd creatures who
scatter blame unfairly, misdiagnose their pains and react appallingly to criticism – especially
when it is accurate – and yet they are hopeful too of the possibilities of progress when
our disturbances have been properly factored in and cushioned with adequate reassurance,
accurate interpretation and respect. Diplomacy seeks to teach us how many good things can
still be accomplished when we make some necessary accommodations with the crooked, sometimes
touching and hugely unreliable material of human nature. If you’re interested in coming to San Francisco to meet us at the end of March please click on the link on your screen now to find out more. We hope to see you there.

100 thoughts on “The Art of Diplomacy”

  1. Have you found deplomacy important in your everyday life? Join us at the end of the month to talk about this and many more important topics:

  2. I'm highly empathic, but I can see that diplomacy isn't for me, especially when there is someone actively and deliberately antagonizing someone or myself. I see the truth of letting some lies go, or going through the act of keeping up pleasantries in order to keep peace and harmony, but when someone is just being mean for sport, or rude because of upbringing, I can see through the source because of empathy, but I cannot choose to let someone trample me or the things I love down to feed someone's ego trip.

  3. I identify a lot with this video. Some of these thoughts have run through my head. It’s cool to see them nailed down to words. I’m currently a teacher, want to be a counselor.

  4. "the diplomat is kind enough to let themselves be the target of hate"
    holy shit it just said something i've been doing without thinking

  5. Diplomacy: The Art of Elegant Manipulation. Honesty is always the best policy, once you disguise the truth with any kind of euphemism it becomes an insult to the intelligence of others. One thing is to protect the truly weak or disable, another completely different is to use this type of manipulation to try to get your way among the lazy or disengaged. Evolution comes from the fight to be better, a challenging nature, the weak by choice (the lazy) will simply be discarded as part of our natural advancement.

  6. That what i really missed in your videos… Long enough and without useless sound effects… This one video is just perfect as the old school style of the school of life.

  7. "They have given up the ideal, not out of weakness but out of a mature readiness to see compromise as a necessary requirement for getting by in a radically imperfect world."
    WOW. This is definitely one of my favourite School of Life's videos!

  8. It seems a little bit strange to me: why are they talking in British English whereas The School of Life is located in San Francisco, USA???

  9. A lie is subjective.

    Yes, to you it may be a "lie" to them a truth from a place you do not know yet. Because you haven't learned 'their truth.'

    I once heard a co-worker retort to another at one of my jobs state "You don't know my truth."

    Spot on we don't know other's "truths".

    Where empathy comes in. For me rather it be humor & direct. Not lies. Just kind. But, unvarnished even if those seem to contradict they actually complement each other. They can live in harmony & balance.

    Just my take. To be a leader or just a decent human…lead with honesty not fear or threats.

    I don't want to be lied to or deceived. Yet, can spot it. Tend to let it go. Mostly comes out of fear.

    Easier to look past flaws we all have & move towards something better.

    After all we are the same species. Sharing the same planet we all need. Rely on. Bleed same color. As Carl Sagan explains better in this video

    "Just a speck."

    Helps put diplomacy where it belongs. Our humanity is our greatest gift to grow.

    Rest was invented and can be rewritten. Invented by humans. Made up chaos. After all we are born in a world that is free. It's other human's that put monatery value on it which leads to fights.

    We can have balance. We are taught to be cynical. Fall into line. Do not question.

    Become afraid and get angry.

    While all emotions are valued ask, who profits?
    And why?

    I wouldn't wish to live in a Utopian society which all the answers & no challenges. It's boring.

    If you wish perfection it's a state of mind that can be achieved at anytime. Just do not punish other's for not falling into line with your own 'truth'.

    They have their own. Learn from it instead of bombing it.

    Just my take.

  10. Very useful compilation of insights about conflict resolution and prevention here, plus the animation is cute 🙂

  11. From my (hopefully diplomatic) point of view, this is without a doubt one the best videos The School has ever produced. Here’s to hoping more diplomats out there!

  12. How good is the artwork! I love this abstract, highly imaginative and flowing type of art and it fits perfectly with the bit-sized tidbits of psychological explanations in these videos.

  13. “The diplomat is kind enough to let themselves be the target of hate”. Wow that is the best quote I have ever heard in my life.

  14. I agree on everything except the lying part. There are better ways to protect someone from the truth and/or deliver it gently instead of slamming it in the face of someone. If I found out that someone lied to me because they thought I couldn't handle the truth, I'd lose trust in them because from that point I'd know I can't rely on what they tell me.

  15. at 6.32min..
    .. beautiful representation of our attempts to reconcile our dream of becoming the best
    version of love and the struggle of coming to terms with our humanity… Typical place where we get lost in emotion ..judgements. .that prision
    of distorted visions of others..mostly of ourselves.
    Thank you.

  16. Being diplomatic is how you can deal with highly defensive, egoistical people always throwing punches at you without throwing punches back! Been trying to figure this out for a while, thanks School of Life!

  17. Diplomacy grows out of pessimism???!

    Quite the opposite, don’t you think, that in the face of sadness and the misery of the human condition, optimism is required to be the diplomat; optimism that positive change can actually occur in such a fallen world!

  18. This video helped me with a situation I had to deal with yesterday. I have always been a diplomatic person, I think, but sometimes I forget to be myself.

  19. what if their is an actually goal for life but no one has obtained it yet.? For example what if life is like super Mario bros but you only get one life and one attempt and you get no instruction and zero knowledge of the game. I think everyone would die before they see the end. What if the creator of our universe (not God) is being imprisoned and he created us in a last ditch effort in hopes that one of us could save him.?

  20. All this makes sense in healthy emotional environments. In a stressful and hostile place (many modern work places), animal behavior seams to prosper were rationality and kindness is left behind. Judgmental and unkind personalities seam to thrive in harsh circumstances.

  21. I used to have this idea that everything could be solved through conversation and when I had my BIGGEST and SCARIEST heartbreak, I faced the fact that, no matter how hard you try, if someone is not willing or prepared to hear you, they won't. And that's when you ask yourself why, where did you go wrong in the explanation. Guess somethings are just not negotiable.

  22. I needed this video so badly right now, you have no idea! I'm glad YouTube recommended it when I need it most right now!

  23. people use the term "badass", "savage" to describe an ideal persona. the truth is being diplomatic: balanced, polite and empathetic is the true art that reaches above those with attitudes. being too assertive is troublesome, we should reach for being kind and gentle instead, in that way there will be true love and exists more good people. i'm also glad that the people on this comment section have that same opinion of mine <3 🙂

  24. These feel or sound a little more confusing than they used to, sometimes I lose track of what's being said even if the language is eloquent. I wish I understood it better all the way through. ;_;

  25. I think this is not for me. I find this to be hypocrisy. To tell things as it is in a very empathetic tone. Telling yourselves that I am not deceiving anyone with a small lie is a lier to him/herself and that is not acceptable to me. Imagine if Socrates was a diplomat he wouldn't be what he is today the father of western philosophy.

  26. Where were you when I was a teenager more than 30 years ago?, I could have preserved so many great relationships that I lost throughout my life due to lacking a more diplomatic approach to resolve differences and/or disputes, thank you.

  27. I watch this video three times. It is a lot of info in 8 minutes video. I think that there are so much in diplomacy that no way anyone can explain it in a year. Just like how to make good friends? You tell me. But this video give out a direction and feel where to start and where our problem lies. Diplomacy is grt skill to have.

  28. Nah. Skip the lie part work off the truth. Then again your truth may differ from theirs. That's when compromise along with empathy and compassion enter the party. Build better diplomats and leaders. We were off the chain.

  29. I wrote a response to this on my blog. Check it out! (btw massive fan)

  30. Please use easier language to explain your point. It's difficult to grasp for people who don't study psychology.

  31. This is a very British approach. I appreciate the German way, which although is not so diplomatic, is so much clearer and more sincere/honest.

  32. I observe a strange fenomenon. Seems that there are more and more people, who claim that they do not care for anyones opinion. Which is tottaly unrespectfull and is a lie. Basically they lie to worse thier relationships. Most probably to defend their ego. Here is one example:
    – What do you think for my new hairstyle
    – I do not like it. It was better before.
    – Hm, I do not care for you opinion
    So why then she asked? Totall lie.
    The young women are especially affected by such propaganda. Which I observe in Facebook, probably other social media. Also in rap music. On some reality shows it is very well prominent. Basically it is a principle of the hypermodern culture. Which sucks as a whole. But this pillar is super dumb and needless. What purpose does it even serves it gains nothing, only ruins. It ruins both the persons ethics and his relationship. It should be eradicated.

  33. I've never seen diplomacy as a government mandated authoritarian type thing but as a civil and reasonable way of doing things😕

  34. Good points. "Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation … as to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom…" ~ Baha'i Faith

  35. AS long as the diplomats are assured of their salary, it doesn't matter whom they are getting outraged as long as it isn't the one paying their salary….it is the art of deceiving others knowing for sure that they wouldn't be punished for it, and the offended person can't do anything about it… is being in position of abusing power and being in gang that defend him/her even if they are at fault.

  36. Rough recap: "We need diplomacy at home and at work to advance a cause without unleashing violent opposition. We must respectfully & patiently listen to even the smallest arguments and show a deep understanding of the opposition 's point of view, concede small points to the opponent to avoid his humiliation. It is hard to make someone change it is better to help him grow which is also not easy because people have fear of change. So, it is important to give love or reassurance. Deliver a criticism in a sugar pill and know that small lies are better than a genuine deal breaker truth in the name of self-righteousness .Stay serene in the face of mean attacks. Also better to sidestep and let an opponent crash than trying to teach him a lesson, better wait until the next best chance of being heard. Never lose what is at stake and forgot about the minor issues. Diplomats are prepared for shortcomings and flaws of human nature. Compromise is necessary in an imperfect world. Sometimes deliver a harsh truth dishing out the rage is useful. Then help the person to deal with this new reality".

  37. Butt Plug Diplomacy… No longer just a unique sex toy, BUTT PLUGS are an essential part of today's statesmanship.

    Thanks to Wikileaks we now know that Carter, Sadat of Egypt and Began of Israel all used Butt Plugs while at Camp David. In fact Butt Plugs are offered quite normally to State Dept. personnel. A Big Basket of Butt Plugs exists in the Board Room of Every Embassy & Consulate… but if a butt plug is found underneath your pillow, that's an indication from your supervisor that your use of a butt plug is mandatory.

    Hitler knew the value of butt plugs but failed to use them: it cost him the war:

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