A diplomat is something we should all want to be. But just what does it mean to be diplomatic? What does the word “diplomat” mean?
The Random House Dictionary describes it very well. It says being diplomatic means being skilled in dealing with sensitive matters or sensitive people tactfully. It goes on to say it implies the ability to avoid offending others or hurting their feelings, especially in situations where that ability is a must! It explains this word suggests smoothness and skill in handling others, usually in such a way as to attain one’s own ends and yet avoid any unpleasantness or opposition. Then it says it also involves knowing how to handle people of different types and on different occasions.
Diplomats exist on various levels. On the world scene we are familiar with diplomats who are ambassadors representing whole nations. These are vital positions, and such people may at times actually be able to avert wars!
But what does this have to do with those of us who are following God’s way? Our calling involves bringing peace to this world in the future. Developing the skills of a diplomat right now is then part of our duty as God’s people.
Diplomats attempt to find a way around disagreements and bring peace. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children [or sons] of God”. We see, therefore, that being a peacemaker is one of the necessary attributes for those who claim to be true Christians. Making peace in this world can only be accomplished with true diplomacy.
But a spirit of diplomacy and peacemaking is certainly not a hallmark of this present age—on the contrary! Paul described to Timothy what the prevailing attitude of the end times would be, in II Timothy 3:3: “Unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self control, brutal, despisers of good.” There certainly is not much of a spirit of diplomacy pictured here!
As with any attitude of the world, this sort of thing can easily rub off on us. There is a real need for God’s people to learn the art of diplomacy, not only in dealing with fellow church members, but also in dealing with people in the world—in our neighborhoods, jobs, and schools.
The Bible is full of scriptures on this topic. Many would be familiar with the classic scripture in Proverbs 15:1, which says: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov 15:1, NKJV)
One of the greatest examples in the Bible that shows the positive effect of a diplomatic approach, is the example of Abigail in I Samuel 25. One can read the story of how, due to the way Nabal (Abigail’s husband) had spoken to some of David’s men, David was on the way to wipe out Nabal and all that he owned.!
Nabal, whose name means “fool”, was certainly not a diplomat. He fulfilled perfectly that scripture that says harsh words stir up anger.
Because David was so provoked, he took four hundred men and was on the way to take revenge on Nabal. Abigail, who had been warned, quickly gathered up a huge gift of bread, wine, grain, meat, raisins and figs, and went out to meet David.
She bowed herself to the ground, fell at his feet and apologized profusely for the actions of her foolish husband, taking all the blame upon herself, and telling David what a great man he was and how great his future would be because of God’s favor, and how God was sparing David from blood-guiltiness, Abigail’s diplomatic approach in a very dangerous situation saved the day. David was very impressed, so much so that he later married her!
The New Testament has a great deal of good advice on this subject, especially in the writings of Paul. He said we should “Pursue peace with all people”—Hebrews 12:14. And in Romans 12:18 he said: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” Of course sometimes it may not be possible, if you are dealing with a person like Nabal, but it should not be our fault if diplomacy fails.
In the job I had for several decades I had to learn to be diplomatic, because I had to deal with all sorts of people, from corporate executives to farm laborers. I was not in a position to demand anything. My job was to get them to volunteer information. This had to do with investigations in connection with various business transactions, such as insurance.
I had to knock on doors and ask people about their neighbors. I had to go into backyards sometimes, to determine the shape and dimensions of a house, for insurance reports. Nearby neighbors sometimes thought I was a burglar.
One time I knocked on a door, and a woman came to the door in a nightgown. A few seconds after she opened the door she collapsed on the floor right in front of me. Being a Southern gentleman, I reached down and picked her up! So here I was with a woman in my arms, and then, suddenly, from the back of the house comes running her husband! So yes, there are times when quick diplomacy is called for! Thankfully, the husband was very nice and understanding.
Calm diplomacy can defuse a potentially explosive situation. The company I worked for basically collected background information in connection with different important transactions. Sometimes the information we had to report caused people to be denied insurance, employment, etc., and this could cause anger.
One day an irate man came into our office. I thought maybe the police would have to be called. He demanded to see the manager. Now our manager was not a perfect man, as any of the employees would have told you, but he did have one amazing ability. My manager took the angry man into his office and shut the door. I don’t know what was said, but after a few minutes the office door was opened and they both walked out talking about getting together to go fishing! I was astounded, but my boss had the unique ability to diplomatically soothe the anger of people. This is a skill we would all do well to be developing.
Here are just a few points I have picked up through the years in dealing with people—just a few simple principles that are helpful:
- Try to find common ground with everyone you are dealing with. You don’t have to compromise your principles to do this. Try to find something you can agree on. Some people are so vain they think they have to correct every little inaccurate statement or error another person makes. This is not necessary and produces nothing but hard feelings.
- If you have to point out someone’s mistake, avoid using personal pronouns. You can come across much gentler by using the passive voice. Instead of saying “You made a mistake here,” or “You should have done this differently,” say something else, using the words perhaps or maybe. You could say something like “There seems to be a mistake here,” or “Perhaps this could have been done better another way.” These little things can help a lot, because they make it easier for the person to accept what you are saying. Personal attacks make people defensive, making it much more difficult to get your point across.
- Say something positive to cushion the blow of any correction that might be needed.
It is often the case that when new people come into our assemblies they are coming from a variety of backgrounds. We need to know how to deal with them as true diplomats—without offending them or “turning them off.”
What if we had a person visiting, who had a religious background very different from ours, who once had many beliefs we would disagree with? There should always be some area of agreement we could find, and we certainly would not want to bring up controversial things or make attempts to show our superior knowledge.
The Apostle Paul set us a fine example of diplomacy. We have long remarked about how well he conducted himself with the philosophers in Athens, by not criticizing or attacking them Rather, he found some common ground with them and spoke to them in a way they could understand.
In I Corinthians 9:20-22, Paul explains how he handled situations differently when dealing with Jews or non-Jews. And he summed up his approach – which is the approach we should have – in I Corinthians 10:32-33, where he said: “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God. Just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved” (NKJV).
Let’s all be diplomats!
By Bill Eastburn