5 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Diplomats

War is crazy expensive. Just ask any monarch, president, prime minister or, well, diplomat. So any alternative to war will not only save money but save lives and property. Historically, the chief alternative to waging a war has been to conduct diplomacy. That’s right: talk is cheap. Not to mention that it is effective, practical, and productive.

No matter on which side of this month’s debate over the Iran nuclear agreement you happen to fall on, we all agree that talking beats destroying and even the most ardent foes of President Obama’s deal with the Iranian government will surely agree that the attempt at an agreement is preferable to a military option. Building as opposed to destroying is what diplomacy is about and business owners and managers can learn a great deal from the process of diplomacy. Not that I am advocating for a relaxation of your competitive drive, not am I suggesting that competitive business practices are analogous to war, but rather that diplomacy carries with it some strong lessons for best practices in management. The key tenets of diplomacy hold lessons for managers in practicing patience, strengthening communication, developing partnerships, and managing people.

In previous posts i have written about how we can learn from kidsdogsmusicians, chefs, and athletes – here are 5 more lessons about what we can all learn from diplomats and diplomacy.

1. Diplomats listen. Diplomacy is, as much as anything, about understanding the other party. But to understand where another person is coming from, one has to start by listening. Closely. The skill of listening to another person is not an innate ability, but rather one that is developed over time through practice and repetition. Of course, diplomats must talk (a lot) in order to do their job, but they also develop strong skills at reading other people, interpreting signals, and understanding their motivations and goals. Managers must also learn to listen to he people around them, and to understand the desires and motives of your customers, employees, investors, and competitors.

2. Diplomats build relationships. The very best diplomats (just like the very best managers) understand the importance of building and maintaining relationships. It takes  a meaningful investment of time and energy to forge associations that will pay off, but it is absolutely essential to meeting the long-term goals of any business or government. As in diplomacy, managers must work hard to construct the friendships and professional connections that will allow them to succeed.

3. Diplomats negotiate. One of the most important skills any manager needs is the ability to negotiate an agreement, a partnership, or a price. Hello. This is the most important skill a diplomat needs in their line of work. The art of reaching an agreement through discussion is the core of diplomacy and the core of business and this is a skill that should be grown and nurtured. Because most businesses do not control standing armies, or caches of missiles and bombs, how else to convince another party to give you what you want then to work out a mutualy satisfying arrangement?

4. Diplomats create coalitionsGoing it alone can sometimes be an effective way of operating. But way more often partnering offers benefits that far exceed what you might be able to accomplish on your own. The art and practice of coalition building is as old as politics and the key to success for countless efforts in diplomacy, legislation, and electoral efforts. Same in business: by collaborating with others both inside your company and out, a manager can effect change in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

5. Diplomats compromiseWhy is ‘compromise‘ a dirty word to so many, particularly in politics, but often in business? Compromise is the key component in any negotiation, and in many business relationships. People compromise every single day, in ways small and large: who gets to choose which program to watch? Who decides the dinner menu or the restaurant choice? Who determines how many nuclear missiles a country can maintain or where exactly a border is determined? Through good goal-setting, discussion, and prioritization managers can achieve their goals, but perhaps without getting every singe thing they hoped for.

Photo, Wikipedia: Diplomats at the Congress of Paris, 1856