Successfully navigating tricky political issues in an organization requires the same skill needed to successfully navigate this season’s onslaught of holiday dinners and family gatherings – diplomacy.

I recently coached an executive facing difficult organizational issues. Drawing on considerable interpersonal skills, he had to maintain excellent relationships with diverse constituents, while delivering absolute and defined results – the very definition of diplomacy.

As we met, I was reminded of my college mentor, who was an actual diplomat – an ambassador to another country. Although I didn’t know the term at the time, I now recognize that this wise professor had high emotional intelligence (EQ), a behavior essential to diplomacy. At the time, diplomacy seemed to come naturally to my wise friend. But I recognize now that diplomacy is a behavior that can be learned.

4 ways great leaders (and dinner guests) can behave like diplomats: 

  1. Exercise Self-Control: Successful diplomats have the maturity to control their behavior and words. They recognize that words carry enormous power, so they are deliberate about the words they use and the impact they have on other people. Good manners – at work and at family gatherings — also send a clear message of respect for others.
  2. Prepare: Diplomats prepare and do their homework. With the fast pace of change in business and politics across the globe, great leaders are calculated in their preparations for meetings — big or small. They rarely try to “wing it.”
  3. Adapt to Others: With so many different constituents, great leaders are adept at adapting to different groups of people. They do this in a genuine and natural way that endears their audiences to them.
  4. Negotiate: In her novel, The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd wrote, “If you need something from somebody, always give that person a way to hand it to you.” To me, that is diplomacy at its best. Diplomats are not bullies. They aren’t the loudest voices in the office or at the dinner table. Instead, they exercise the art of winning through influence. As they negotiate, they have the uncanny ability to make constituents feel heard and understood, while remaining assertive and strong.

This holiday season, and throughout the year, I wish you great diplomacy – both in the workplace and at the dinner table.

Paulette Ashlin’s book, Leading: The Way – Behaviors that Drive Success outlines the importance of responding to, changing, and improving your behavior to become the best leader you can be.  Find out more at