Diplomacy and Tact- 10 Signposts to the Leadership High Road

Jun 19, 2017Leadership, Training

When Leadership Diplomacy and Tact goes wrong…


Diplomacy & Tact Leadership Skills








On a Presidential visit to Canberra, Australia in 1992, George W Bush rode past locals in his armoured car, giving them the ‘V’ sign for what he thought was victory.


Unfortunately for President Bush, his palm was facing in towards his body and that, in Ireland and Australia is a totally different, highly insulting gesture.


A genuine mistake on his part was then compounded by his speech, later that same day advocating for the cultivation of greater understanding between the American and Australian cultures!


I think we all can agree that this story reflects the crucial importance of Diplomacy and Tact as Key skills for a leader.


This incident didn’t cause any International relations issues as the Australians were very gracious about it. But it gives us a clear picture of how easily our intention can be completely different from our impact as a leader.


Tough Questions…


I want you to pause for a moment and ask yourself a tough question? Are you a Leader who possesses the skills of tact and diplomacy?


Are you the type of person who treats others fairly, in a sensitive and effective way?


Can you deliver an unpopular opinion without creating hostility? Can you relate to people of all types of background and beliefs and treat them equally without letting your own biases get in the way?


Are you the type of leader that your team really respect and chose to follow because of your character?


If  you’re a leader who thinks you lacks these skills right now, I want to ask yourself the following question.


Are you willing to do the work it takes to develop these skills?


Picture yourself and your organisation 6 months down the line with higher team engagement, less staff turnover, less apologies to make and most importantly higher productivity and ROI.


If you’re a ‘results-oriented’ direct leader with a reputation for being harsh or blunt, that sometimes intimidates people, then we’re here to help.


We at the Complete Leader Ireland know that Leaders are made not born and with the right help and guidance, you can become a more complete Leader.


Why are Diplomacy and Tact key Leadership skills?


If you’re a CEO, you’re a diplomat. It takes incredible diplomacy to juggle and meet the short and long term demands of all your various stakeholders. If you’re an entrepreneur and build your own company, diplomacy is your key to leading a team that can see the needs that your company can fill. And if you’re in an NGO, you may think of your role as an activist, but you’ll be far more effective promoting change if you’re a diplomat. If you’re a politician – in fact if you’re president – you’ll quickly realize that you have no power without skilful, patient diplomacy” Adapted from Beth Brooke- Marciniak (Global Vice Chair at EY) Commencement Speech at Babson College, US.


Diplomacy & Tact Leadership Skills



In an increasingly global workforce, leaders have to be able to maintain positive relationships between people, they need to bridge differences between people such as race, national origin, religion, gender, lifestyle, age and disability according to The Complete Leader book.


A leader who has keen Diplomacy and Tact skills creates an organisation with improved relationships that lead to Teams that trust each other and can discuss the difficult issues, which in turn leads to more successful outcomes and less miscommunication.


Innovation and creativity arise from differences- and a Diplomatic and Tactful leader recognises this. Differences can create synergy if a leader can negotiate and allow each team member to be heard and respected equally.


A Diplomatic and tactful approach shows a leader has character, maturity, professionalism, and integrity. They model the type of Character Leadership that inspires people around them to follow, we want to be like them, we’re more loyal to this type of leader, we give more of ourselves to them – because of who they are.


What does a Leader who has mastered Diplomacy and Tact do differently?


A Leader who has mastered these skills, builds rapport and relationships easily, listens carefully to all parties, doesn’t judge people, sees them for their uniqueness, puts aside her own biases, carefully chooses her words before speaking and is polite and courteous at all times.


The difference between people who have mastered these skills and those that have not is that no matter what the situation, they respond with intelligence, grace and dignity.


Diplomacy and Tact are not just about managing differences between people and being fair and equitable, it goes deeper. A hallmark of effective leaders is that they can be respectful towards people whilst being tough on the issues. Ron Price says that it is a “mature balance between results and relationships” The ability to not compromise one for the other.


We’re not advocating leaders being passive or politically correct, Diplomacy and Tact are direct and assertive in nature.


According to Skills you Need, long-term success at Diplomacy and Tact is based on strong communication skills, planning, self-control, confidence and emotional intelligence.


How do I begin to develop my Diplomacy and Tact?



The High Road of Diplomacy and Tact


Signpost #1 – Follow the Rules


The golden Rule states: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – i.e. “Treat others they way you want to be treated”.  Start here and now.


Signpost #2  – Align your Impact with your Intentions.


In The Complete Leader Book, they recommend leaders: Align your Impact with your Intentions. There are two experts in every communication, I am the expert of my intent and you are the expert of my impact.


Most of the meaning in communication is not conveyed by the words we choose but by our body language and our demeanour. We can improve our diplomacy and tact by starting with awareness of how our actions and words will be received by others.


Ask yourself: What will be the impact of my communication- including words, tone of voice and body language?   To help you further with this, we recommend:


  • Practice your Active Listening Skills. We referred to this and gave some tips in our last Blog on Negotiation. Listening is the most fundamental component of Interpersonal Skills.


  • Learn more about Emotional intelligence so you can manage your communication in a more effective way. Visit The Complete Leader for more resources.


  • Complete a TTI EQ Assessment  to know your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to Diplomacy and Tact- then formulate a strategy to develop yourself.


Signpost #3 – Choose the Right Environment, and the Right Time


The right environment is everything. Imagine having an Annual Review in the Cafeteria- have delicate discussions in private.   Tact means saying the right thing at the right time, if a direct report has come in sick to finish a project, it’s not the time to take her to task on an issue that you have with her. Diplomacy requires patience and sensitivity.     


Signpost #4 – Choose your Words Carefully


Be prepared before you enter into difficult conversations. Outline on paper what you want to achieve. Decide how you will present your case. Remember your choice of words can influence how others perceive your message so follow these suggestions.

Mind Tools advises


  • Using “I” statements during conflict, or when you give vital feedback. When you do this, you take ownership of your feelings instead of placing blame. For example “ I think you would be more convincing if you prepared more beforehand” instead of saying “You really were badly prepared for our meeting”.


  • Using a “cushion,” or connecting statement, when you disagree with someone. For example, you can cushion the message, “You’re wrong – our team did well last quarter,” with, “I appreciate your opinion, but our team did well last quarter.”


  • When you’re in a tense conversation, be concise. It’s tempting to keep talking when you feel uncomfortable, which increases the chance that you’ll say too much or say something that you’ll regret.


Signpost #5 – Manage your Emotions


Know your hot buttons. What has derailed you before or triggered an outburst during a meeting? Learn from your mistakes. Take a Behavioural Assessment like TTI’s DISC to find out your style as self-awareness is the key to managing your emotions. Developing a regular Mindfulness or Meditation habit works incredibly well to develop self-control.


Signpost #6 – Ask more Questions


Questioning is a fundamental part of successful communication. Turning your statements into questions allows the other person the opportunity to explore your point of view. Similarly when we ask a person questions, we can gain a better understand of them, their personality and any difficulties we’re having with them.  


Signpost #7 – Be Courageous


Diplomacy and Tact require having the courage to speak up for what you believe in, without resorting to aggressive behaviour or manipulation. Be assertive. Express yourself honestly and openly- be authentic.


Signpost #8 : Sometimes Diplomacy looks like weakness


It might look like weakness, but in reality it’s compromise. Not every outcome can be Win-Win. At times, each party gives up something in order to come to an agreement. Compromise is hard, one of the hardest things you’ll do, according to Beth Brooke- Marciniak, but you must see it as a strength not a weakness.


Signpost #9 Find a Diplomat at Work


Identify someone in your workplace that displays mastery in these skills and observe how the language they use, the questions they ask, how they confront problems. Can you model their behaviour and adapt it to your own natural style?


Signpost #10 – Ask for Feedback


Ask someone you trust at work for feedback on your  Diplomacy and Tact skills. Take on board what they have said, document a development plan and use each interaction you have to develop your skills. Revisit your trusted advisor and ask for feedback on your development.

Final Thoughts


The skills of Diplomacy and Tact are essential to a Complete Leader. Even in today’s world where a lot of our interactions are digital and teams are virtual, we cannot succeed without them.


If you would like to be begin developing your Leadership Diplomacy and Tact Skills, begin by adhering to the Golden rule. Then work on aligning your intention with your impact. Practice your Active Listening and complete a TTI EQ Assessment to develop your understanding of Emotional Intelligence.


Be prepared, plan in advance, choose the right location, the right timing and choose your words carefully.


Self awareness is key; know your hot buttons, develop more perspectives by asking questions, but be assertive and true to yourself. Acknowledge that being able to compromise is a strength.


Finally, find someone who is a great role model, adapt their methods to suits your style, and as ever get good feedback from someone you trust.


Remember- practice makes permanent. So practice practice practice. These skills are as applicable at home as in the workplace. Which of these 10 Powerful tips would make a difference to your Diplomacy and Tact? Begin with 1 today!


If you would like to join a leadership community to help you on your journey- we are the founders of the Complete Leadership Ireland LinkedIn group, which is full of great resources and discussion to help you become a more effective leader. We would love to have you with us.

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