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How Leaders Can Develop Their Diplomacy Skills to Drive Business Success

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Diplomacy isn’t just important in politics – it’s also a fundamental set of skills in the workplace.

Good diplomacy skills enable leaders to handle sensitive issues, navigate tricky conflicts and look at the facts objectively, without biased interpretation.

A diplomatic leader will therefore create a healthy culture where people can work well together, even in stressful environments.

So, what is diplomacy?

Diplomacy is best described as the art of tactfully engaging with people to achieve a desired outcome or goal. Armed with this skill set, leaders can approach challenges and conflicts with empathy, a sense of fairness and solid analytical skills.

Leaders with strong diplomacy skills are conscious of the power of their words and behavior and so intentionally communicate with empathy and transparency. They then listen carefully and consider multiple sides of a situation before making a decision, which encourages transparency, creativity and collaboration between team members.

Related: Lessons From a Diplomat on How to Build Business Relationships

What are the most critical diplomacy skills?

Diplomatic skills encompass a range of abilities that can have an extremely positive impact on leadership success. A considerable advantage of these skills is that they help to improve workplace culture, thereby increasing employee engagement and productivity.

Effective communication, empathy and creative problem-solving are just three of the important skills a leader could focus on if they want to be more diplomatic.

1. Effective communication is an essential skill in diplomacy

Often at work, we communicate with other people in our own natural communication style without consideration of the communication style of our colleagues. This is often the key to lots of misunderstandings. For employees to work together better, it is helpful to actively listen carefully to what is said, appreciate where the other person is coming from and ask clarifying questions. In a Harvard Business Review study, 69% of leaders reported that they aren’t comfortable communicating with their employees, demonstrating the necessity of ongoing training and coaching.

Related: What’s Your Listening Style? Knowing It Will Make You a Better Leader.

2. Understanding the perspectives of others through empathy

Having empathy for another person’s situation can play a significant part in navigating complex situations. A diplomatic leader considers multiple points of view, understands how emotions factor into the equation and can use these understandings to help diffuse tense situations. A study of nearly 1,000 employees by Catalyst found that leaders who demonstrate empathy benefit workplaces through increased innovation, employee engagement and retention of employees.

Related: The Networking Mistake Most Entrepreneurs Make

3. Taking a creative, problem-solving approach

Finding fair outcomes to complex problems isn’t always easy, but this is precisely what a diplomatic leader does — focuses on discovering outcomes that work for all. To do this, they’ll focus on gathering information from multiple sources and getting their team involved. Hence, team members benefit from providing their perspectives and contributions to solving the issue and have some buy-in to the result.

How do you improve these skills?

1. Focus on listening to understand

When we listen to understand, instead of listening to respond, we stay more present to what is being said in the moment. Listen to the speaker without interrupting with your own point of view. As you listen, focus on both verbal and nonverbal communication. What is really being said? The goal of your listening is to understand the meaning and intention of the speaker correctly, as this will give you a good foundation for your diplomacy skills.

Another idea to improve listening skills is to meet with staff individually so you can listen with fewer distractions and better understand what drives them. Be curious about who they are and ask open-ended exploratory questions. For example: How are they finding work? How is their workload? What are they hoping to do more or less of? With this knowledge, you’ll be better able to support them and manage expectations.

Related: Are People Actually Listening to and Understanding What You Say? Here Are 5 Signs to Watch.

2. Be supportive of creative solutions

When you’re in a challenging meeting at work, think about how you can be open to innovative ideas and solutions from staff. Focus more on the various options for resolving the issues at hand. Allow for ideas that might be outside of the box. By doing this, you’ll build the knowledge that there are multiple ways to look at a situation. Your team’s insights might expand your viewpoint to something you’d never considered and having diverse input makes for a stronger team.

3. Practice effective communication

A large part of diplomacy is clear and effective communication. Build an environment of trust where your team feels they can converse with leaders without fearing retribution. Implement an “open door policy,” as this will spread the message that people can come to you with new ideas or to share their concerns. Be as transparent as possible with your team with information about how things are going. Share the highs and the lows of the week/month/quarter. Give shout-outs to celebrate accomplishments. If something is going wrong that you can share with them, let your team know. If there is a big project coming up that might impact your availability. Be sure they’re aware. An email to your team can go a long way.

Related: Startup Survival 101: It’s All About Relationships That Work

Ultimately, being a leader is about empowering your staff to do their best work and encouraging people to work well together to increase engagement and productivity. And this really is what diplomacy is all about. It can be a fine line, sometimes, between balancing the needs of a business with the needs of the team. However, having staff who are happy, engaged and productive will always lead to continued success.

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