Good and Bad: Communication and Diplomacy
By: Shekhar KC, MDEVS
Communication and diplomacy
Communication is to diplomacy as blood is to the human body (Jonsson & Hall, 2002). As the saying implies, it’s impossible to underestimate the decisive role of communication in maintaining relation between two or more parties and the fulfillment of their respective diplomacy. Good and bad communication directly leads to favorable or disaster consequences. Scholars acknowledge that Diplomacy still rests on the creative combination of verbal and non-verbal communication (Jonsson & Hall, 2002). In addition to that cultural understanding is very important while communicating with the partners, especially they happen to be a new one (Slavik, 2004).
Caroline (2011) writes that diplomats don’t only talk with other diplomats but also engage wide pool of stakeholder in the relationship building process. To give example media publish news not only on the basis of the press release issue by the embassies after the diplomatic visits but also on the basis of the nonverbal traits of two parties. In other words, if diplomacy is understood in one way as the proper mechanism to building positive relationship so as to reap benefit and fulfill the objective of the interaction, then it’s crucial to communication properly.
There are various examples of good and bad communication leading to diverse nature of diplomatic consequences in the international scenario but here I would like to talk about my own student and professional life experiences to demonstrate how good or bad communication leads to good or bad incidents especially when it involves cultural perception of relationship between communicating parties.
Case 1: Good Diplomacy
Getting paid from the Boss
Global Foundation (name changed) is a non-for profit governmental organization working in research sector since 2008. I was involved in one research project for 3 month as a Research Assistant on contract basis. The research director Mr X was the PhD supervisor of Mr Y and Mr Y was my thesis supervisor. That is to say, Mr X was not only related to me as a professional colleague but a senior academician that involves some cultural obligations that includes proper greetings and humble communication from my side and more importantly no direct or harsh statement.
My objective of interaction with the organization was to get paid in time through and maintain my professional and academic relationship with the Mr X, the director of research.
My communication strategies
– Since I can’t talk explicitly with the Research director about my payment, I had to talk to someone else who is near to hi. As the research director was far senior than me and he rarely know how important it was to for me to get paid, I had to talk to someone who can convey the message regarding how important money was for me at that particular time. So talk with Mr Y, who was my supervisor as well as the student of the research director Mr X. hence I was able to retain my image of a student with Mr Y and Mr X. Similarly I got money in time. Everyone was happy.
– Another problem I faced was delay in my payment because I was just a student, aggressively working but not being acknowledged financially. Every staff who were senior and already established within the organization were paid but except me because I couldn’t assert my share to them as it was first time for me to claim money. I couldn’t take help of Mr Y this time because it would sound too dependable, something against my self reliance. So what I did was remain absent in home making some emergencies excuses. The impact was directly on the research project because the deadline was arriving and my portion of work was yet to be done (which I knew I could do it in 3 days and it was 17 days remaining for deadline). After 4-5 days, the research director called me and asked about my emergencies. I tactically said that I needed some money and I was busy with collecting money from some of my relative whom I have lent some months back. Through that call, he was convinced about my financial need. On the other hand, I had already done enough work to receive some 10 thousand rupees. The next day he ordered his accountant to give some amount to me. The way I was asked was also very tactical. The accountant telephoned me and said my check had already arrived some days back.
I understood this is the way payment system works in NGOs of Nepal where money matter is always diplomatic.
Hence this combination of verbal and non-verbal communication I was able to get money and there was no damage to our relationship.
Summary: Remaining diplomatic to the research direction was very important because maintaining relationship with him was as important as getting paid. Also I knew I had future opportunities to work with him and I wasn’t going to miss that at any cost. He was a renowned researcher and media personality, everyone like me would like to work with him.
Case 2: Bad diplomacy
Kathmandu University SWC and administration
KUSWC (Kathmandu University School Welfare Council) is a student body of Kathmandu University whose president is also a senate member of KU, so it can be considered an influential decision making body. Currently it is defunct as it was unable to convince the KU administration as the constructive body to lead student issues in proper manner. The relationship between KUSWC and KU Administration was never a good one. They communicated very badly with each other. More than that KUSWC which was relatively far weaker than KU should have dealt diplomatically so as to sustain its existence but failed to do so.
Some of the wild activities of KUSWC that convey bad communication were
– portray its students representatives as being affiliated to some powerful mainstream parties
– stick the press release in a very cynical manner throwing direct criticism to KU administration
– Use handwritten instead of typed words in the press release.
– Be loyal to Non-KU stakeholders like mainstream political parties than to KU students.
Above activities convey very bad message that pose threat to the student friendly environment. KU SWC was unable to fulfill objectives of leading KU students and extracurricular activities like sports week and Annual KU Festival. It was the loss of students and the SWC due to bad communication. It didn’t consider the cultural perception of students and other KU stakeholders if SWC tried to inject political elements inside a private university. It can be considered as an example of a bad diplomacy because cultural perception was missing there (Slavik, 2004).
Inorder to maintain the relationship, KUSWC should have
– convinced that they were loyal to KU students
– organize student interaction activities
– invite KU administrative officers in different student related programs
– exchange of good will and commitment to work for the mission and vision of KU
Summary: the weaker party has to present itself as humble and non-aggressive party, not necessarily inferior, if it is to negotiate with stronger party. The general scenario of mixing politics in education scenario is not perceived positively because the culture of politics in Nepal is not good. So, cultural elements should be considered while design communication strategies.
It is so obvious that diplomacy directly relates to good and bad communication but it again depends upon cultural understanding of the particular issues. Whether it is relationship building or power sharing, it is necessary for communicating parties to communicate with cultural consideration so that relationship is balanced. Otherwise everyone knows –Good communication lead to benefits while bad leads to disaster.
Carolin. (2011, January 11). Diplomacy Revised. Retrieved March 29, 2013, from The New Diplomacy A: http://thenewdiplomacya.blogspot.com/search/label/new%20vs%20old%20diplomacy
Jonsson, C., & Hall, M. (2002). Communication: An Essential Aspect of Diplomacy. Department of political science, Lund University. LA: 43rd Annual ISA Convention.
Slavik, H. (2004). Intercultural Communication and Diplomacy. DiploFoundation.
 This text was the part of the assignment submitted to Dr Mahesh Banskota for the subject ‘India and China diplomacy with Nepal’ under Masters in Development Studies
 The question to be answered as the part of the assignment was – “Communication is the essence of diplomacy. There has never been a good diplomat who was a bad communicator.” Stearns, (cited in Jönsson and Hall, 2005 p. 67). Give one example each of two situations of good and bad communicators and give reasons for your selection.