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The power of the unsaid and its importance in diplomacy

Published on 20 November 2012
Updated on 05 April 2024

Implicit communication, the unsaid – how important is this in an age of supposed transparency and openness? This and other questions were raised in a presentation by Dr Biljana Scott at Diplo’s conference on Innovation in Diplomacy.

Scott touched on a number of ‘little secrets’ in communication that we should not ignore as they play a huge role in communication. The unsaid – in other words something that should not and need not be said, that meaningful silence that implies what we want to be understood by the other party – offers us a chance for innovation.

The unsaid can help diplomats in a number of ways: it can buy them time and space, it can leave some space for consideration,it can be used smartly in persuasion. We can do a better job if we lead people to their conclusions. It is not always smart to be totally open; we do not always directly express our intention. Where we want to get, says Scott, is to reach a high level of cohesiveness within a specific group; by sharing the same cultural habits, we can build such community. Therefore, it is good to become comfortable with the unsaid. But how should this unsaid be taught in diplomacy? How relevant is its study in diplomacy?

Scott presented some practical examples of how the unsaid, sometimes just in the form of how sentences and words are structured, can influence readers – what about phrases such as ‘old men, women and children’? Or what about the presupposed link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11? We were led to believe – by the power of the unsaid – that there was a link, but was there? Even simple words such as Yes, No or Maybe can mean different things – in different cultures or different contexts.

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1 reply
  1. Leïla chellabi
    Leïla chellabi says:

    Very interesting. I wonder if
    Very interesting. I wonder if the citizens at their level, have to practice or not the unsaid. Because when diplomats do, it’s because they know the unsaid, but we, citizens, rarely know about it. So what do you think ? Do the citizens have to say what they think ? Is it helpful or not ?
    Sometimes not knowing the unsaid is very destabilizing for us and pushes us to understand more through embarrassing questions.
    Thank you.
    I’m a French citizen
    Leila chellabi


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