Saturday, May 15, 2010


When a journalist later asked him what personal qualities he considered essential to diplomatic exchanges, Henry replied: "Knowledge of what I am trying to do. Knowledge of the subject. Knowledge of the history and psychology of the people I am dealing with. And some human rapport...To have some human relations with the people I am negotiating with. This takes some rough edges off. They won't make concessions they wouldn't otherwise make."
Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power, (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007), 150-151.
One of the ways Nixon hopelessly tried to dig America out of the disaster known as Vietnam, was sending Kissinger to secretly try to negotiate with the North Vietnamese. The hope was to somehow get the North Vietnamese to agree to certain conditions which would have allowed the United States to leave without shame. The negotiations would prove to be fruitless as did the entire conflict. Attempting to eradicate a people's desire for self-determination often is futile. However, despite the negotiations proving to be worthless, Kissinger's stated model of diplomacy (stated being key - as both Nixon & Kissinger were not known for producing a rapport with anyone outside of their circles) is worthy of acknowledgement.

The first step is knowing the purpose of what you are trying to accomplish. What are your goals? What do you need to make sure happens? What are you actually talking about? Too often diplomacy fails because the purpose behind it is muddy leaving the negotiator trying to figure it out on the fly. The next step is to know the history/psychology of who you are dealing with. This is where I believe the U.S. failed in dealing with North Vietnam. They simply did not understand that they were never going to give up. It was more than just a war to them - it was a sense of pride and identity. If you do not understand the history/psyschology of who you are dealing with - you will continue to push forth a plan that will never fit.

The third and perhaps most crucial step is that of having a rapport with whoever it is you are dealing with. I believe this is the most overlooked dynamic in diplomacy and dealing with people. Too often relationship is assumed and it leads to disaster. Don't assume the people you are dealing with like you or want anything to do with you (including colleagues, subordinates, opponents, etc). Without this crucial step - you will too often assume things are going better then they actually are. "Rough edges" as Kissinger called them are often the greatest obstacles to resolution. If things do not seem to be working out - this is where I would start looking first.