BY IRMA BALIAN
Civility and courteousness existed since the beginning of humanity. With the age of technology ruling so vigorously, we need to reintroduce etiquette, manners, protocol and soft diplomacy, in order to provide a contemporary framework for our everyday communication and interpersonal skills. However, before we use these words from now on, let’s try to define their meanings first.
Etiquette entails politeness and deference between individuals and groups of people. Be it among family members, social and business settings or even during diplomatic encounters. It is based on common courtesy rules that people acquire throughout their lives. Ideally it should be introduced from early childhood and be carried forward all throughout the years. It includes among other features, proper ways of conduct, greetings, table manners, gallantry and graciousness. In other words, Etiquette is another term used to refer to “savoir-vivre.” According to various books, the word Étiquette was initially introduced during the reign of the French King Louis XIV (1638-1715) to refer to the codes of conduct and proper behavior within the garden of his palace. Since then the word etiquette mainly refers to the norms of conduct used by human beings during any type of interaction.
For example, social relations may lead to better results if people deal with each other with respect, consideration, truthfulness, kindness and empathy. Children for instance, need to learn the proper etiquette skills when interacting with adults, their older relatives, when invited to a friend’s house, meeting new people etc. On the other hand, when parents and teachers include decorum while raising or educating the future generation, they are bound to influence the latter with positivity and lead them properly by example. Young adults use etiquette when they go for job interviews, cooperate with their colleagues, need to impress potential clients or maintain trustworthy relations with long standing customers. Even heads of state, politicians, country representatives, envoys and negotiators need to acquire the necessary comportment skills to complement their diplomatic capacities.
As for Manners, they are suitable guidelines, which help people to get along better. Appropriate behavior improves communication skills and leads to a more comfortable and pleasant atmosphere. Good Manners help individuals become nicer through the use of empathy and consideration towards others. When a person knows about proper etiquette forms, but points out to the bad behavior of another person for instance, that makes the former an ill-mannered person!
While Etiquette & Manners involve the rules of politeness and compassion among people in a social setting, Protocol comprises the set of rules associated with formalities, ceremonial events and official occasions involving nations and their representatives; as well as functions or formal procedures related to organizations, establishments and business entities. Protocol varies depending on the occasion or the entities involved. It is therefore imperative to show respect and honor to the subject matter, be it a state, a corporation, an organization or an institution. For instance, a state visit is the most formal type of a visit paid by a head of state to the head of state of a foreign country. It entails the highest form of honor bestowed upon the visiting head of state and involves many procedures in protocol.
Furthermore, whenever we talk about protocol, we come across terms such as precedence, head of mission, diplomatic corps, flag protocol and state banquets. Remember that protocol and etiquette are not identical. They might sometimes coexist within a given formal event but do not use these terms interchangeably. As for Diplomacy, it is a skillful and insightful way of interacting with people. To this day, I don’t know anyone who has been able to define the word diplomacy as good as Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965). His famous quote always resonates in my ears as: “Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.” In the world of decorum and protocol, we also talk about soft diplomacy. It focuses on soft power during negotiations, the relational skills during international forums or multinational summits, political dialogues or concessions. Soft Diplomacy is essential in managing communications and cooperation between countries or within entities with different cultural backgrounds. For instance, when two countries disagree, soft diplomacy plays a major role in building conciliatory bridges between them. You could even use Soft Diplomacy within domestic issues or social matters.
Take for example a family feud where a courteous mediator could play an instrumental role in mitigating the disputes. It is the first step towards a fruitful accomplishment. Soft diplomacy acknowledges the concerns and the priorities of both groups and works on improving the relations between them respectfully and tactfully. Even in the corporate world, disagreements and frustrations can be overcome by the influence of soft diplomacy. Sharing your office with a co-worker for instance, requires a lot of soft skills to maintain a diplomatic and professional relationship within the work environment. Consider also another scenario where you need to discuss about a raise with your boss whom you disagree with on many levels. The only way you could handle such a sticky situation is with recourse to soft diplomacy skills. In addition to being equipped with the above tools, beware of the existing variations in customs and traditions around the world. It doesn’t matter which field your career belongs to, or whether you are in the work force or not, for you are probably living in a global environment and need to deal with people from various backgrounds. When you approach others with a culturally savvy mind and make an effort to acknowledge and respect your differences, the prospects for a better relational future become promising and highly probable. Remember that respect, humility, fairness, empathy and cultural awareness could reward and benefit all.
Irma Balian trains professionals and individuals worldwide in Protocol, Soft Diplomacy, and Cultural Awareness. She also offers courses to corporations, educational institutions, adults and children. Irma is the founder of ProtocolWise. Follow her on Instagram @ ProtocolWise Email: firstname.lastname@example.org