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Diplomacy and the Role of Body Language

By: Julie-Ann Amos - Updated: 15 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Body Language diplomacy conflict

When you see the word diplomacy you probably picture a huge room with representatives from several countries all sitting around trying to hammer out an agreement on whatever topic is at hand. Body language is an integral part of diplomacy between nations, but what you may not realise is that many of the same principles of international diplomacy are also applicable to your own life as well.

Body Language and International Diplomacy
International diplomacy relies on body language and non-verbal cues to quite a large extent. Everything from where participants sit at the negotiating table to the use of gestures to the actual negotiations themselves involves the use of body language to send and receive messages and information. In many cases that body language is very deliberate, designed especially to influence the diplomatic conversation.

Skilled diplomats understand just how much body language is affected by:

  • Culture
  • Gender
  • Level of anger or confrontation
  • Different values
  • Different beliefs
  • Different goals and preferred outcomes
As a result, they learn as much as possible about the person(s) with whom they’ll be interacting in order to make the best choices in body language and non-verbal messages.

Body Language and Everyday Diplomacy
Now let’s look at how aspects of international diplomacy are useful for everyday diplomacy. Diplomacy may seem like a very formal word for the kinds of interactions you have each day, but in fact many times that’s what they really are. Think about the last time you had a conflict with a co-worker or a disagreement with your spouse – how did you resolve the situation? And how much of what you did resembles the issues related to diplomacy as described above?For instance, you and a co-worker have a conflict over the best way to spend the remaining portion of the marketing budget. As the two of you work to resolve the conflict, think about the following:

Culture – This might refer to the culture in which you were raised, or it might refer to the culture of the particular department or work group to which you belong. Someone from the marketing department, for example, comes from a different work culture than someone from the finance department.

Gender – Although gender in the workforce is not nearly as much of an issue as it used to be, there will always be issues related to gender because of the differences in how each gender sends and receives non-verbal cues.

Level of anger/confrontation – The higher the levels of anger or confrontation, the less likely it is you will successfully resolve the conflict. Watch out for body language that may be perceived as aggressive or challenging; in most cases, it’s best to take a deep breath, relax, and perhaps even take some time away from each other to ‘cool off’ and get into a better frame of mind.

Different values – Two people in the same workplace can have very different values when it comes to business issues. One might find the idea of telemarketing to customers distasteful and too intrusive, while the other sees nothing wrong with telemarketing campaigns.

Different beliefs – Your beliefs are shaped by a number of factors, but remember that the other person’s beliefs may be shaped by a number of different factors. You might believe the economy is strong and demand for your product will continue to grow, while another person might not be quite so sure and is therefore reluctant to be too aggressive with production.

Different goals/preferred outcomes – This is quite often a major underlying cause of conflict between co-workers. For instance, your preferred outcome might be a brief slow down in production to complete some overdue maintenance tasks, but someone else’s preferred outcome might be to speed up production to meet month end goals. This type of conflict can become especially difficult if one or both people have commissions or bonuses tied to achieving their preferred outcome.

Diplomacy, then, takes these and other common issues into account when dealing with body language in the face of interactions with another person. This is especially true in conflict situations. The next time you disagree with another person about something, take a few moments to run through this short list of categories and look at the conflict from both of your perspectives. What you find out just might help you determine the most effective body language to use in resolving the situation.

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