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The art of diplomacy

Ah yes, the art of diplomacy. Having been through several rounds of contract negotiations over the years, I’ve learned that what you hear is not necessarily what is meant by the comment. Quite often, what you believe to be an agreement is a stall, or worse, the exact opposite. Many are familiar with the notion that the word ‘yes’ does not even mean affirmative support, especially when the opposite party does not wish to offend.

If only people would be honest with one another. But alas, we are rather sly creatures. Often we use opaque language because we don’t want to offend the other party, but it might also be because we have altering motivations or are entertaining multiple offers. This becomes all the more confusing when you consider businesspeople whose mother tongue is not English or those with different cultural upbringings. Either way, communication is difficult; mastering its subtleties should be a consummate career goal.

I’ve complied a few different expressions of what is heard alongside the phrase’s appropriate meaning and what is often (mis)understood by the recipient. And, can you add to this list?

What is said:  “I hear what you are saying…”
What is often understood:  He/she accepts my point of view.
What is meant:  I disagree and do not want to discuss it further.

What is said:  “With the greatest respect…”
What is often understood:  He/she is listening to me.
What is meant:  You are an idiot.

What is said:  “That’s not bad.”
What is often understood:  That’s poor.
What is meant:  That’s good.

What is said:  “That is a very brave proposal.”
What is often understood:  He/she thinks I have courage.
What is meant:  You’re insane!

What is said:  “Quite good.”
What is often understood:  Quite good.
What is meant:  A bit disappointing really.

What is said:  “I would suggest…”
What is often understood:  Think about the idea, but do what I want.
What is meant:  Do it or be prepared to justify yourself.

What is said:  “By the way…”
What is often understood:  This is not very important.
What is meant:  This is the primary purpose of our discussion.

What is said:  “I was bit disappointed that…”
What is often understood:  It doesn’t really matter.
What is meant:  I am very annoyed.

What is said:  “Very interesting.”
What is often understood:  They are impressed!
What is meant:  This is clearly nonsense.

What is said:  “I’ll bear that in mind.”
What is often understood:  They will probably do it.
What is meant:  I’ve already forgotten it.

What is said:  “I’m sure it’s my fault.”
What is often understood:  Why do they think it was their fault?
What is meant:  It’s your fault.

What is said:  “You must come for dinner.”
What is often understood:  I will get an invitation soon.
What is meant:  It’s not an invitation. I’m just being polite.

What is said:  “I almost agree.”
What is often understood:  He’s not far from agreement.
What is meant:  I don’t agree at all.

What is said:  “I only have a few minor comments.”
What is often understood:  He has found a few typos.
What is meant:  Please redo this completely.

What is said:  “Could we consider some other options?”
What is often understood:  They have not yet decided.
What is meant:  I don’t like your idea.

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in eHotelier on January 24, 2014)

Larry MogelonskyThe art of diplomacy