9. Choose Your Method of Communication Carefully.
It’s good to put a filter on your brain that’s always asking, “What’s the best way to engage in this communication? Is it email, a phone call, a text message, a face-to-face conversation?”
For example, if you’re going to raise a highly-emotional topic, email is probably not the best strategy. Often, picking up the phone or walking over to someone’s office will be much more efficient in the long term. Face-to-face, in-person communication allows for the maximum amount of throughput and can be incredibly efficient because you can self-correct in the moment. You can see the other person’s reactions and and you can use the interaction to build the relationship.
Every step away from face-to-face, in-person communication provides less context and less information. Using the phone omits facial expressions and body language, and emails strip out tone of voice and the possibility of quickly correcting misperceptions. In fact, email in particular is often the source of a lot of mischief. People can spend an excessive amount of time constructing the perfect email when they’re upset. And usually the response takes a similar amount of time. Why not be more efficient and just go talk to the person, and work it out?
Along the same lines, when there’s a disagreement between two individuals who are part of a group meeting, it can often be more productive for them to talk before or after a meeting rather than to try to sort out their conflict in front of the group.
When disagreements get sorted out in front of a group, it takes everyone’s time. It can also create a perception of conflict between two people such that even if they resolve it later, the rest of the group still thinks it’s alive. Again, a little extra time before a meeting or, if necessary, afterwards, can help things be more efficient over the life cycle of the communication. Of course in some cases, if a topic needs the group’s input it may make more sense to discuss it in a meeting. It’s just good to ask the question, “What’s the best place and time for this communication to happen?”
10. “Make Friends in Times of Peace.”
It’s an important leadership practice to invest a certain amount of ongoing time and energy into maintaining and strengthening your network of relationships, both inside and outside your company. Cross-functional and peer relationships in particular become increasingly important the higher up you go.
Particularly at the vice-president level and above, cross-functional peer relationships are crucially important. Think about it: if you want to lead an initiative that impacts the whole company, you’re going to need the help of your peers. And, by the same token, if they’re leading a company-wide initiative, they’re going to need your help.
So, invest in those relationships, not just for you but also for them. However you do this, whether it’s through lunch, coffee, drinks after work or finding meaningful ways to collaborate on projects, an investment in those relationships is worthwhile, especially if it happens before you really “need” the relationship.
In other words, a time of crisis or a time of need is not the best time to start getting to know your peers. Investing ahead of time makes it much more likely that people will be eager to help you. And remember – it’s not just one way. It also means you’ll be better able to help them.
It can be useful to draw a map of all your stakeholders–the people around and above you in your company–and give some thought to which relationships you want to develop. This exercise can also include external relationships. There’s nothing wrong with being strategic about how you develop your network.
11. View Things from a “What’s Best for the Company” Perspective.
When you are having trouble collaborating with a peer, ask yourself, “What’s best for the company?” Cultivating a company-level perspective is another mindset approach to developing diplomacy. It often works, because like several of these strategies, it gets you away from focusing too much on your own needs or the needs of your team, and helps you view things from a broader and more inclusive perspective.
12. Avoid Bad Behavior.
Finally, one more tip for becoming more diplomatic is essentially the Golden Rule: treat other people the way you want to be treated. Do you find yourself tempted to go around someone directly to their boss because it seems more efficient to deal with the problem? Hold yourself back and try to sort it out with them first. You would probably appreciate if they would do the same for you.
Are you frustrated with someone and tempted to complain about them to peers that you’re close to? Instead, just don’t say anything. Or better yet, find some productive way to try to build the relationship.
Overall, these strategies may not encompass everything one could do to become more of a diplomatic executive. But they cover many of the important bases. Look through the list and ask yourself, “Where am I strong, and where could I improve?” Pick an area to work on. You might be surprised at how diplomatic you can become.