Platonic, familial, romantic, professional — what do all the unique, varied relationships this life offers have in common? Each connection requires a degree of communication, collaboration, and compromise. There are even some applicable skills found in the tools of diplomacy that global leaders use that we can leverage in our own relationships.
Navigating compromise and negotiation within a relationship is tricky and gets even trickier when the emotions or the stakes are high. In some cases, both are escalated, and reaching a calm accord can seem impossible. In other cases, both are high, and you’re negotiating on behalf of all your country’s citizens, too.
Thankfully, most of us aren’t in the latter situation, but reaching an agreement or developing a peace treaty in a personal relationship really can feel just as monumental as international negotiations. Can we look to the tried and true tactics of global diplomacy, then, for some communication cues? The answer is a resounding yes. Read on for 5 tips on integrating the tools of diplomacy in your relationships, from active listening to simply taking a walk together — a tactic that American presidents do, in fact, deploy during conversations with world leaders.
5 Tips for Using Tools of Diplomacy in Your Relationships
Implementing tools of diplomacy like accords and alliances in your relationships might not come naturally at first — especially if diplomatic exchanges weren’t taught or modeled for you in your developmental years. Investing in and attending to your relationships through couples counseling or family therapy can equip you with the awareness needed to successfully negotiate healthy relationships. You don’t have to wait to reach across the aisle, though — start practicing these skills before you sit down for your first appointment and watch how communication becomes less polarized and reaches new depths.
1. Attentive, active listening.
Why is it that over 41 million Americans are finding comfort and transformation with the help of a professional therapist or marriage counselor? One of the many reasons is simply that being deeply heard and fully acknowledged by another person can begin a cascade of healing. These are the kind of skills developed during couples counseling.
In fact, recent research shows that people who receive active listening during conversations feel more satisfied and perceive the listener as more socially attractive.
So, the next time you’re in conflict or conversation with your spouse, friend, or loved one, make an effort to listen actively and attentively to what they are sharing.
It might not be as easy as you’d expect! Listening with an open heart and an open mind requires awareness and presence, especially when the truths and feelings being expressed are uncomfortable ones.
2. Staying objective.
Holding onto an objective frame of mind during an emotionally heightened or distressing conflict is, admittedly, easier said than done…at first. Like any beneficial habit, objectivity does become more accessible the more it is consciously integrated into your communication practices and couples counseling can support your efforts.
Losing objectivity, or taking something personally, usually manifests as someone interpreting a remark or action as a slight against them and being hurt or offended as a result. The interpretation may be completely contrary to what the other person intended, and typically touches on an insecurity. Hurt and insecure, the person who has lost objectivity will often launch into a defensive or self-protective stance which limits effective communication.
3. Avoid blame and shame.
As tempting as it can be, blaming and shaming your partner, family member, or coworker is never going to lead to an equitable compromise or voluntary peace treaty.
When blame and shame come into the equation, it’s often because the shamer wants the shamed to change in some way. As the root of many disorders and emotional issues, shame serves only to activate past trauma, damage trust, and cultivate an environment of fear.
Instead of blaming or shaming your partner with a statement that sounds like, “I can’t believe you did or didn’t do xyz,” try separating the message you are trying to convey and expressing it in a more effective way. Something like, “A part of me feels angry and unsupported when xyz,” is a caring alternative that helps the other person understand your perspective without compromising your feelings.
4. Build Rapport.
Don’t wait until the feelings of discord and disconnect appear to try and rebuild rapport in your relationship! Instead, strengthen your relational bonds in moments of contentment, so the foundation of trust exists even during conflict.
To cultivate a truly healthy rapport in your relationship, practice the above three tips as often as possible. Ask your partner, friend, or family member questions about their experiences, processes, and how they see the world. When the other person is sharing, let them enjoy feeling seen by listening with genuine curiosity and validating their feelings. If you feel yourself start to take something they said personally, try responding with a clarifying question before you react.
Take it a step further by implementing a safe word convention to be used during disagreements. For example, if your safe word is pineapple, and your partner calls out the name of the tropical fruit mid-fight, what they’re trying to communicate is: I love you, this conversation isn’t productive, and I need to walk away until I calm down.
5. Go for a walk.
Last, but certainly not least, take the topic to the streets! Walk to your couples therapy appointment together, or just take a stroll around the block.
Walking not only releases beneficial brain chemicals that can soothe and calm the nervous system, but it also requires collaboration and co-regulation on an underlying level. You and your walking partner are, after all, setting the pace together!
Even some American presidents have chosen to use this tool of diplomacy. Taking a walk with their international counterparts when discussing tense or complicated topics has proven effective because it positions the two key players in a non-confrontational stance. Instead of facing each other directly, as if in a debate, they walk alongside each other, both heading in the same direction physically, and hopefully metaphorically too.
When it comes to navigating interpersonal relationships with grace these tips can help, but you don’t have to do it alone. Get the support your important connections need from a licensed, experienced couple and family therapist today to start building the loving, united future you deserve.
Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD. As an MFT, he specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His areas of expertise include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, fellow psychotherapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to The Couple and Family Clinic Blog.