Yellow banner with pen and letters

Author: Paul Sharp

Talking to Americans: Problems of language and diplomacy


Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Professor Paul Sharp discusses negotiation with American mediators. He notes that most literature on negotiation is written to advise Americans and other Westerners about negotiating with foreigners.

However, “for the diplomatic profession…how to talk to Americans is a much larger shared problem than how the Americans talk to everybody else.” Sharp points out that many of the problems other nations encounter when dealing with Americans are not cultural at all, but common problems any nation faces when dealing with a richer and more powerful nation. As advice, he suggests the same rules that are given to American diplomats for dealing with others: show respect for other cultures and make necessary adjustments to avoid offence.


In her speech at the Chiefs of Diplomatic Missions Ball two weeks ago today, the now-former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright made the following remarks to her assembled colleagues from other services:

Our purpose here this evening is truly just to relax and enjoy the company of this truly diverse group that has worked together so very, very, well. Because gathered here are the representatives of the entire family of humankind. We are all of different colors and races and creeds and backgrounds, and in our lives we have all traveled very different roads. But we share a certain basic understanding.2 (My italics)

Perhaps so, but the premise of this conference is that a “basic understanding” is not easily accessible through the medium of language for, in Raymond Cohen’s words, “…every language conveys a unique representation of the world.”3 The ways in which we speak and think are deeply rooted in our particular cultures, themselves the results of long processes of production and reproduction which evolve only slowly if, indeed, they evolve at all.

This is scarcely a novel observation. Indeed, the separateness of cultures has been historically presented as a raison d’être for diplomacy as a cosmopolitan caste of privileged professionals. They served their Princes and Peace, not only by pursuing interests, but also by keeping affairs of state properly insulated from passions, morals, and cultural peculiarities of those whom they were increasingly forced to represent, the peoples of their respective countries. A shared diplomatic culture distinguished by a common language and acquired by similar patterns of socialisation, it was argued by writers on diplomacy from de Callières and de Wiquefort to Satow and Nicolson, was the key to preserving this insulation.

However, the historical record of classical diplomacy provides grounds for treating these writers’ confidence in this regard with scepticism. Either the diplomats of 1914 did not share a common understanding of what was happening, or they were unable to get their respective leaders to accept that understanding. Clearly, the professionals were not as good at finessing the culture problem as their defenders thought they were simply because they could not. As libraries of philological, philosophical, and sociological inquiry in the twentieth century made clear, a direct correspondence between language and the material reality it purported to describe could not be taken for granted. The lingua franca of the day, be it Latin, French or English, was steeped in its own peculiarities of understanding and ways of seeing the world, and even professionals who acquired fluency in it did so with their habits of thought and understanding firmly structured by their own cultures mediated by their own languages.

If one adds to this the great irony of globalisation as far as diplomacy is concerned, namely that it is bringing together more and more people steeped in their own cultures and languages (politicians, business people, advocates and lobbyists for public transnational causes, and individuals),4 one begins to sense the scale of the contemporary problems posed to diplomacy by questions of language and culture. The contribution to international affairs by professional cosmopolitans who were probably never as effective at finessing culture as we had hoped, is being diluted by the onset of an army of hyphenated (for example, field, track two, and citizen), and even more culture-bound, small “d” diplomats.5

If the problem posed by language and culture for contemporary diplomacy is large, what are the dimensions of it which practitioners and scholars alike must address? I identify three: the central question; the operational dimension; and the political dimension.

  1. The Central Question: The central question which must occur to anyone once they are told that their way of apprehending the world and expressing themselves about it through language is shaped by culture is, how much? At one end of the continuum we can identify a simple correspondence theory, namely that we all pretty much see the same thing but have different but equivalent words for it (and anyone who says otherwise is mucking about). At the other end, we see claims that, for all practical purposes, in social life at least there is no objective “out there”, only subjective renditions which may or may not correspond with one another. Much diversity scholarship, for example, emphasises how racial, ethnic, class, gender and sexual (but rarely national) identities give rise to different ways of seeing the world. Any unity of vision between them can only be achieved by a process of oppression in which the views of subordinate identities are silenced by dominant ones. A better alternative is the creation and maintenance of much more limited and less ambitious areas of inter-subjective agreement by a process of ongoing negotiation (I hope that strikes a chord) between agents whose way of seeing the world differs not only from each other’s but also by whatever context they happen to be in.
  2. The Operational Dimension: Most diplomats and students of diplomacy necessarily find themselves adopting an intermediary position on this continuum. Experience soon teaches that a simple correspondence theory of language works no better for diplomats than it does for husbands and wives, parents and children or indeed human beings in any sort of relationship of some depth or complexity. Nevertheless, faith (or so it must seem at times) leads them to believe that some shared understanding is, in principle, always attainable for if it were not, there would be no point in having diplomats trying to find what it was. This being so, the operational dimension is concerned with how to proceed when one is conscious that the way in which one speaks to others and they speak to you is culturally-inscribed with meanings and significance which are not shared and, indeed, of which one may be unaware. There are few more dangerous situations in diplomacy than negotiations where the participants believe themselves to be in agreement with one another when, in fact, they are not. How, then, are such situations to be avoided?
  3. The Political Dimension: The answer to this question is complicated by the fact that diplomacy is not only a means of communication but also an instrument of policy and, as such, has a political dimension to it. Official pronouncements and protestations notwithstanding, there are circumstances in which states still strive for advantage vis à vis one another, and diplomats have a moral and professional obligation to their masters and those whom they represent in this regard. Certainly another key element of the moral ethos of professional diplomats is that they should strive to ensure that their own activities and communications do not become a source of unwanted tension and conflict between those they represent. When conflict is judged acceptable, however, and advantage is actively sought, then language and terminology become instruments in the contest. If setting the agenda and framing the questions for a negotiation can become vital matters for negotiation in themselves, then there is no reason to suppose that diplomats conscious of the differences between languages and the significance applied to key ideas within them will not seek advantage from this knowledge. A diplomat may not insist that his or her own conception of what it means, for example, to negotiate, make concessions, or work for peace is adopted as the sole measure of what these terms suggest, but will at least resist the adoption of the other fellows’ conception if it is not to his or her advantage.


Applying the observations above to the question of dealing with the Americans raises two problems which are related to one another. The first is that most of the literature on diplomacy, language and culture is written as advice for how Americans and, to a lesser extent, other Westerners should deal with foreigners, principally non-Westerners. This is unfortunate because for the diplomatic profession, as opposed to the academic profession, how to talk to Americans is a much larger shared problem than how the Americans talk to everybody else.

It is also unfortunate in that the emphasis of the literature on the Americans structures the problem of language and diplomacy in a particular way. The Western way of thinking and speaking, we are reminded, is only a way of thinking and speaking, not the only way of thinking and speaking. Whatever its intrinsic merits or, indeed, its universal merits, in diplomacy, the fact that it is only one among several ways of so doing is more important. By implication, this warning contains an injunction to Western negotiators not only to be aware of these differences, but to adjust their own approach accordingly. If face and honour are important to the fellow with whom you are talking then this is a factor which must receive serious consideration if success is to be achieved.

This is sound advice, certainly, and there are plausible arguments for why the burden of cultural accommodation should be put on Western and principally American diplomats, rather than their non-Western counterparts. There is, of course, considerable, although incomplete, overlap between these two categories and two others, the rich, powerful and hegemonic, in aspiration at least, on the one hand, and the poor, weak, and more tolerant of diversity, in presentation at least, on the other. It may be claimed, therefore, that the weak and poor have already made, willy nilly, vast cultural concessions (after all, living in a sovereign state system may be plausibly claimed to be living under someone else’s arrangements for the majority of the world), or argued that from those to whom much has been given much is expected. The rich and powerful not only have the ability to accommodate others, they also have the moral obligation to do so.

However, the argument about where the responsibility to adjust and accommodate resides also rests on the claim that Western countries in general, and the United States in particular, stand in great need of cultural and linguistic sensitising. This, in its turn, is part of a more general argument to the effect that, the fact that it is the richest and most powerful country in the world notwithstanding, the United States does not actually handle itself very well or helpfully in day-to-day negotiations.

A recent conference of scholars and diplomats on “How the United States Negotiates,” for example, reached a number of conclusions along these lines.6 Among them were: the sense that the US plays the role of hegemon, acting dictatorially at times, and negotiating on the principle “…what’s mine is mine. What’s yours is negotiable”; the perception of “…an intrusive United States” arising from increased salience of economic, human rights and governance issues in international affairs; concerns about “…US unilateralism and indifference to local circumstances and the domestic requirements of other countries”; and worries about the extent to which the US is internally constrained by its constitutional arrangements and electoral cycles, resulting in certain issues being manipulated for domestic gain “…without much consideration of the international context or impact” and American negotiators using domestic circumstances as “a convenient excuse” for not co-operating with others or to impose their own timetable on negotiations.7

These are important observations to be sure. However, I would argue that none of them are particular to the United States and none of them are manifestations of a particular culture. Rather, they are manifestations of the distribution of power and wealth in the world.8 Specifically, they capture the experience of dealing with someone who is richer and more powerful than oneself, an experience which reoccurs in multiple settings on a daily basis in diplomacy. I would venture that there is more than a family resemblance between the experience of the Canadians dealing with Washington, the Jamaicans dealing with Ottawa and our own hosts talking to Rome.

I appear to be on the brink of disavowing the importance of language and culture to diplomacy at this point. I am not. The point I wish to make before proceeding is just how difficult it is to separate culture and language from other causal factors in diplomacy. The conference noted above was part of an ongoing project on cross-cultural negotiation, yet its findings, as reported, about how Americans negotiate addressed factors whose relationship to American culture and language were indistinct while their relationship to other factors, more easily identified, was clear. However, wealth and power, and the behaviour they engender in those who possess them (not to mention the reactions they may engender in those who do not) are not, in themselves, manifestations of culture. In making an assessment of the importance of culture as mediated by language to the conduct of diplomacy, it is necessary to begin, at least, by treating them separately from wealth and power.


A useful starting point is the continuum which Cohen offers for making an analysis of negotiating styles in terms of the importance which negotiators attach to the broad cultural context in which they see themselves operating, this importance itself being a manifestation of culture of which the bearers may or may not be aware.9 For these purposes, he suggests that cultures can be arranged along a continuum from high context to low context. Thus, the culture of the Middle East is presented in high context terms. Arab diplomats are said, by Cohen, to attach great importance to context in several dimensions. They bring to any negotiation a strong and particular sense of the history which has brought the participants together, and it is important that this general sense informs the contributions of all parties to the negotiation. They also operate with a sharp distinction between the way in which they believe matters of state ought to be considered between princes and matters of commerce be negotiated between traders. The former is the realm of principle and justice in which the participants should seek to achieve what is right, and an unwillingness to approach matters of state in this manner is seen as a serious obstacle to any real progress. The latter is the realm of the market where goods may be haggled over and where no great moral principles are at stake. Finally, Arab diplomats attach a great importance to the development of a thick interpersonal context between negotiators in which personal friendship and trust may be established and in which, above all, a concern for the personal honour and dignity of each participant may be affirmed.

In Cohen’s analysis, Arab diplomats and Middle Eastern societies are presented to illustrate a particular type, but also to serve as a clear example of what may be regarded as traditional societies or, at least, developing societies within which the traditional element remains strong. Although great differences can exist between and within such societies which are manifested in linguistic confusions and pitfalls, what we are offered, at least as a starting point, is a global bifurcation between the more-or-less developing world in which traditional values give rise to a high context negotiating culture, and the more-or-less developed world in which context and the problem at hand are more likely to merge.

If Arab diplomacy archetypically demonstrates the negotiating style born of a high context culture, then American diplomacy, in Cohen’s view, serves as a powerful example of the negotiating style to which the low context cultures of the developed world give rise. American diplomats regard diplomacy as an exercise in collective problem-solving. Problem-solving can be of two sorts: technical, arrived at by the application of knowledge and expertise to achieve a solution consistent with the interests of the parties involved; or political, involving give-and-take in accordance with some rough-and-ready conception of fairness modified by the balance of power, commitment, and perceptions of both. Establishing the fundamental principles of an environmental or trade treaty would serve as an example of the first kind of negotiation. Working out the terms upon which individual countries might become parties to the broad agreement would be an example of the second type. Critical to low context negotiating cultures is the subordination of history, personal honour, an ongoing relationship, and just about everything else, to the achievement of an agreement, or at least an outcome, for the matter in hand. The problem is the thing, all else is clutter and undergrowth to be cleared away by the diplomatic equivalent of Lockean philosophers, at least it is such to all people of goodwill who seriously want to accomplish something in a negotiation.

Cohen’s point is that very serious misunderstandings can arise for cultural and linguistic reasons. They do not give rise to conflict where otherwise there would have been none so much as exacerbate conflicts of interest and make them harder to resolve. Language differences can give rise to difficulties even between diplomats from similar backgrounds on the high context/low context continuum, but between diplomats from cultures which are wide apart, fundamental differences can occur regarding not only what is at stake, but also about what it means to conduct a diplomatic negotiation.

Thus, it is argued, negotiations between Americans and others can run into trouble because the Americans appear too direct both in their use of language and in their whole approach to what is at stake. In so doing, they offend the sensibilities of their negotiating partners before even getting to the real business. The most famous, but flawed, example of this might be Tariq Aziz’s rejection of the message brought by James Baker from President Bush for Saddam Hussein just before the Gulf War, rejected because of its undiplomatic language. Americans, in contrast become frustrated by what they see as evasiveness and stalling which results, in their view, from their counterparts, in Satow’s term, “…having to contend for a bad cause”.10

Useful though Cohen’s distinction between high context and low context cultures is as a point of departure, overly relied upon it leads to trouble. It does so in two ways. First, by oversimplifying, it misses the extent to which there exist variations within cultures which are themselves brought forth by different contexts. I lack the expertise to speak for high context societies, but I can speak with some experience of US culture(s), and I can say there are times and circumstances in which US negotiations are very high context, even on the proverbial second hand car lot. In Minnesota alone books have been written (and, more importantly, money has been made) providing outsiders with the context they need to make sense of what is, or may be, being communicated in the sparse conversations and non-verbal exchanges which participants in the culture instantly recognise.

In everyday life at least, Americans sometimes negotiate in a low context manner and sometimes they do not. The question to be asked is what kind of contexts give rise to which kinds of approaches to negotiating, and I have already suggested that an analysis of the balance of resources between those involved might be a starting point for an answer to this question. Syrians in their dealings with Americans and Israelis may take a high context approach, but Syrians in their dealings with the Lebanese or the Kurds, one suspects, may take a low context approach.

The second problem with the high context-low context approach resides in its characterisation of what is meant by low context. While Cohen and others are at pains to suggest that the low-context, American approach involves only one way of looking at the world which is not necessarily superior to others, they do tend to accept it on its own terms, namely that it is sparse or thin not only in its presentation but also in fact. By so doing, an opportunity is missed to put the use of language by Americans under the microscope. A closer examination reveals, of course, an implied universe of assumptions about what is important, how the world works, and America’s proper place within it, not to mention the place of others.

Consider again Albright’s remarks at the Chiefs of Missions Ball. We all share, she claimed, “…a basic understanding”.11 An earlier commentator, de Callières, made a similar sounding remark when he suggested that diplomacy could be viewed as a freemasonry united by the common need to know what was going on. However, Albright’s conception of “…the common understanding” was far more extensive. “Diplomacy”, she maintained, “…is about building and nourishing partnerships for cooperative action towards common goals” and foreign policy (which, incidentally, she called “…the best subject in the world”) is “…the way people work to reach peace”.

While her speech provided plenty of evidence to support the collaborative problem-solving problematic suggested by Cohen and others, however, what receives very little acknowledgment in it is the idea that others have their own conceptions about the nature of the problems needing solutions and, indeed, that others have interests. Insofar as these are recognised, Albright identifies them as “our goals” which need explaining and “…each other’s needs” which require understanding if we are all to work together successfully.

The significance of these remarks is given a context in other speeches she made during her final round of the Washington and national circuits. In her farewell address at the State Department, for example, she concluded by saying:

Our country, like any, is composed of humans and therefore flawed. We are not always right in our actions and our judgements, but I know from the experience of my own life the importance and rightness of America’s ideals.12

Two days before, in a speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in which she explicitly rejected seeing US foreign policy in terms of a debate between “…Wilsonian idealists and geo-political realists”, she provided her own formula for the seamless relationship between ideals and self-interest in US foreign policy under the Clinton administration. The administration had, she claimed, been “…determined to do the right thing in a pragmatic way”.13

One has to be careful in the way one selects and uses this kind of text. The professionals among us, and those who study what they say, will be quick to recognise the formulaic quality of the selections above and sense the way in which they are generated by the demands of the occasion. In the Chicago speech, for example, Albright began by saying that for her final trip as Secretary of State:

…it is no accident that I didn’t choose to go to the capital of a foreign country, but rather to the capital of America’s heartland.

She also provided a different definition of diplomacy or, at least, American diplomacy. “The job of our diplomats…” she maintained “…is to protect and advance the interests of our citizens.”14 In the immediate context she was flattering her audience and boosting the State Department with a hard nose sell to those sceptics who believe that its job is to represent the interests of foreigners in Washington and at unnecessary expense.

And yet, when coupled with my own experience of working with Americans, there is something more implied by what Albright chooses, or has chosen for her, to say on such occasions and the way in which it is expressed. First, I would maintain, there is a confident grasp on what life is all about, and by this I do not just mean a strong sense of American identity. It is a grasp of what life, in general, for everybody is, or ought to be, about. I wish I could say that this was just a presentational requirement for elite membership and advancement, but it is not. It seems to be manifested at all levels of society, if not uniformly among all races and ethnic groups. Nor is this a phenomenon associated with one end of the political spectrum. Members of the right and left or, more accurately, conservatives and liberals, all tend to manifest this confidence about their own conception of America as an embodiment of the way in which real people everywhere, if only free of the burden of lazy state bureaucrats or cranky neo-Marxian intellectuals would really like to live.

Secondly, this confident grasp of life in general has a place for those who simply do not conform to its requirements. Paradoxically, for a society which is founded upon an 18th century philosophy preserved in aspic, as it were, which took interests very seriously, it has little tolerance not so much for those who are different, but for those who will not “play ball”. Demonisation is a term which has perhaps been over-used, but this is effectively what can happen to those who are uncooperative. They must be wicked or, at least, led by the wicked.

Some of the targets of this process of demonisation in recent years have certainly deserved it, but I think what makes this indulgence so difficult for others to accept is its selective character. “Their” sons-of-bitches or, these days, free standing sons-of-bitches get the full treatment whereas “our” sons-of-bitches barely figure as such on the radar screens. And of course, the whole concept of demonisation, fairly or selectively employed, is a nightmare for effective diplomacy which is premised in great part on the need to talk with those for whom we do not feel responsible, may not trust, or do not like, but with whom we must, nevertheless, have relations.

How then do we talk to such people? I will conclude with some brief talking points. Sometimes, there can be no talking to them at all. Sometimes they are rich enough and strong enough to have their way. Nearly always, they are rich enough and strong enough to go home if they do not like what is happening, with losses to everybody but asymmetrically distributed. However, more often than not, and for bad reasons as well as good ones (consider Clinton’s recent efforts on the Middle East peace process, like a cardiologist applying the paddles when everyone else in the room, including the patient, is telling him he’s dead for now) they want to talk.

On the big question of the relationship between language and the “out there” which is variously posited not to exist, to be constructed by language, or accessed by it directly, I would suggest showing respect for American claims to a privileged access. Respect here can mean several things. As a Briton who has lived in the US for fifteen years and before that was congenitally disposed against even visiting the place, let alone living there, I am happy to concede that, as civilizational models go, they, the Americans, have got a lot of things right and, more importantly, they have got a lot of things right in the judgement of many less privileged than ourselves around the world. Respect can also mean simply taking them seriously in their claims. Americans are frequently presented as gauche, naive, incapable of irony (watch the Simpsons) or ambiguity and understatement (watch Frazier), that they somehow don’t get what life is really all about for those who are fully human. These are, in my judgement, mistakes. Taking Americans seriously, however, can also mean simply acknowledging their power and wealth (those of you who saw Jurassic Park may remember the expert’s mini lesson to the bored and unimpressed child about how ‘raptors hunt and kill, which culminates in his dragging the claw across the boy’s belly and enjoining him to “…show a little respect”).

On the operational question of how diplomats should deal with the problem of language and culture once they become aware of it, the advice is the same as that given by the literature to Americans about how to deal with foreigners. Make adjustments to avoid unnecessary offence (Americans have a highly peculiar habit of resenting what they see as the importation of irrelevant data or arguments into a negotiation; a tale of five hundred years of oppression may win you a fifth down, they may even spot you three points, but a touch down remains a touch down, especially after they have scored it) and make such adjustments where mutual or unilateral gains are possible as a result (I was recently engaged in a negotiation with a British university where everybody was incredibly uncomfortable talking about money, including their money man, to the point that the negotiation possibly failed prematurely). Stepping out of one’s own culture to deal with foreigners is no dishonour, indeed I am sure it is ranked as one of the attributes of a successful diplomat.

Finally regarding the political dimension to language, culture and the practice of diplomacy, it is reasonably easy to imagine a number of techniques for exploiting the particularities of culture of which we are all, to a point prisoners. On this matter, however, I will take my cue from the professionals among us, acknowledge that diplomacy is, indeed, a political business, smile, and fall silent.


1. My title echoes Monteagle Stearne’s Talking With Strangers: Improving American Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad (Princeton, 1999).

2. Madeleine Albright, Remarks at Chief of Diplomatic Missions Ball, January 13, 2001, State Department website,

3. Raymond Cohen, “Negotiating Across Languages,” paper prepared for the British International Studies Annual Conference, Bradford, December, 2000, 1.

4. Raymond Cohen, “International Negotiations: A Semantic Analysis,” Columbia Online, February 1999.

5. To distinguish between big, or capital, “D” Diplomats and small “d” diplomats appears to be one way of finessing another problem, whether the term may be used for the representatives of anything other than sovereign states and the international organisations created by them.

6. “How the United States Negotiates,” conference organised by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), 24-26 July, 2000, reported in Peace Watch, VI, 6, October 2000.

7. Ibid., 2-3.

8. Note, however, that none of the characteristics observed are a manifestation of different interests, at least not directly. Wealth and power may be isolated from culture up to a point, but interests take their shape from, and may even be rooted in culture.

9. Raymond Cohen, Negotiating Across Cultures: International Communication in an Interdependent World, revised ed. (Washington DC: USIP Press, 1997), 25-43.

10. Satow’s phrase about the essentially tragic circumstances in which even the very best diplomats, both in moral and practical terms, may find themselves.

11. Albright, Remarks.

12. Farewell Address to the State Department, January 19, 2001.

13. Address to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, January 17, 2001.

14. Ibid.

icon for right PDF

You may also be interested in


Knowledge management and international development – the role of diplomacy

In this chapter, Walter Fust talks about the role of knowledge management, and knowledge for development, in diplomacy. He describes various methods to assess what knowledge should be stocked, and explains the need for managers who are assigned the task of deciding what should be stocked. These decisions need to be guided by principles, or guidelines - referred to as value management.


Leaders’ rhetoric and preventive diplomacy – issues we are ignorant about

In this paper, Drazen Pehar analyses the argumentation made by George Lakoff of the University of California at Berkeley in his seminal paper on ‘Metaphor and War’, in which he tried to deconstruct the rhetoric U.S. president George Bush used to justify the war in the Gulf. He also analyses a reading by psycho-historian Lloyd deMause, whose theory differs from Lakoff’s. Throughout his analysis, Pehar describes the role of rhetoric in diplomatic prevention of armed conflicts, and its several functions, and concludes that the methods of preventive diplomacy depend heavily on the theory of...

On intercultural training of diplomats

Today the world is becoming smaller and smaller - distances shrink and become irrelevant, information flows are immense and very fast. People tend to speak foreign languages and, to their surprise, find out that this is not enough. There is more to it, and it is culture. It is of paramount importance to educate a generation of people capable of communicating effectively and working together with representatives of other cultures.


Pragmatics in diplomatic exchanges

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Edmond Pascual interprets diplomatic communication with the linguistic tools of pragmatics. He begins by reminding us that while the diplomat is a "man of action," the particular nature of the diplomat's action is that it consists of speech. Pascual applies three concepts of pragmatics to diplomatic discourse: speech as an intentional act; the effects of the act of speech; and the role of the unsaid in the act of speech.


Documenting diplomacy, Evaluating documents: The case of the CSCE

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Rather than individual documents, Dr Keith Hamilton looks at the process and purpose of compiling collections of documents. He focuses on his own experience as the editor of Documents on British Policy Overseas, and particularly on his work publishing a collection of documents concerning the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe from 1972 until 1975.


A practitioner’s view

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): With examples from a detailed case study of the historical New Zealand Treaty of Waitangi, Aldo Matteucci shows us that the diplomat's job is to decode language. Matteucci writes that all language comes with "hidden baggage": hidden meanings and intentions, historical and political context, legal precedents, etc. In order to find these hidden meanings the diplomat needs a broad understanding of the context of a situation.


Internet governance and service provision in Zimbabwe

From an Internet governance perspective, multilingualism and security have been two of the cornerstone themes since its inception. The security theme addresses topics regarding the Domain Names System (DNS), Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), Internet attacks, security awareness, and policies and legal measures to ensure a safe and secure Internet experience. Security is a very diverse area where multiple topics should be tackled, and ignoring one or more topics while securing other areas would still jeopardise the safety of Internet users.


Jargon, protocols and uniforms as barriers to effective communication

This paper presents a number of case studies illustrating the role of jargon, protocols and uniforms in creating communication problems. The authors provide some pointers for improving communication and are conscious of the fact that in the five thousand years of recorded history, extensive research in philosophy, biology, sociology, psychology and other disciplines has offered few answers to the problems of effective communication across cultures and professions. However, some measures do work, when there is a will from all parties for them to work.


Diplomatic language and translation. Case study: President Donald Trump’s rhetoric

This thesis explores the importance of diplomatic language, persuasive rhetoric and translation in international diplomacy. The hypothesis here is that diplomatic language is changing and that this change affects both our understanding and use of language and linguistic devices. In order to exemplify this trend, a case study analyses President Donald Trump’s controversial rhetoric and its translatability. The thesis provides, first, a close reading of texts that illustrate the pervasive power of a politician’s style, rhetoric and persuasiveness. Second, it considers the translation challen...


Interpretation and diplomacy

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Conference interpreters Vicky Cremona and Helena Mallia outline the different types of conference interpretation, difficulties in interpretation, preparation and techniques, and team work. On the topic of diplomatic conferences they point out that "confidence in the interpreters is essential.


Historical rhetoric and diplomacy – An uneasy cohabitation

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Drazen Pehar writes about historical rhetoric; specifically the historical analogies used by diplomats and politicians to strengthen their arguments and convince others of their views. Using numerous historical and current examples, especially from the Balkans region, Pehar explains why historical analogies are used. He examines the role historical analogies often play in worsening relations between nations and bringing about conflict.


Language, culture and the globalisation of discourse

To explore the idea that word use is culture-bound, this paper examines the English words culture and globalisation, to discover how they are used, and how they have come to have certain meanings or represent certain ideas.


Deconstruction and the undoing of diplomacy

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Ivan Callus and Ruben Borg apply a very different set of tools to the analysis of diplomatic discourse. Their paper applies the discourse of deconstruction, a form of literary criticism, to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.


Applying the pedagogy of positiveness to diplomatic communication

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Dr Francisco Gomes de Matos applies what he calls the "Pedagogy of Positiveness" to diplomatic communication. He proposes a checklist of tips for diplomats to make their communication more positive, emphasising respect and understanding of the other side, and keeping in mind the ultimate goal of avoiding conflict.


Communication barriers to negotiation: Encountering Chinese in cross-cultural business meetings

When two negotiating parties from different cultural backgrounds attempt to communicate, the potential for disagreement and misunderstanding is great. People from other cultural backgrounds, especially from the West, often find the behaviour of Chinese negotiators strange and unintelligible. This paper examines communication barriers between Chinese, Australian and American negotiators.


Use of language in diplomacy

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Ambassador Stanko Nick takes a practical approach, examining issues such as the choice of language in bilateral and multilateral meetings, the messages conveyed by language choice, difficulties posed by interpretation, and aspects of diplomatic language including nuance, extra-linguistic signalling, and understatement. Language, according to Nick, is not a simple tool but "often the very essence of the diplomatic vocation."


Language: Setting the stage

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Benoit Girardin takes a philosophical approach to rhetoric - along with the issues of interpretation and ethics. He examines each of these three fields and its relation to diplomatic practice and negotiations, showing with examples how diplomatic language exhibiting either a lack or an excess of any of these qualities may lead to problems.


Use of ambiguities in peace agreements

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Drazen Pehar looks specifically at the use of ambiguities in peace agreements. Pehar explains why ambiguities are so often used and why diplomats and others involved in international relations may think it best to eliminate ambiguities from peace agreements altogether.


Challenges facing women in overseas diplomatic positions

This paper identifies challenges that women face when working overseas in diplomatic positions, a professional environment that historically has been male dominated and that can be characterised in some ways as an 'old boys' network. It identifies some of the significant issues from the perspective of women who are serving or have served their countries’ foreign missions.

Do the Experts Mean What Their Metaphors Say? An Exploration of Metaphor in Mediation Literature

The message explores the use of metaphor in mediation literature to determine if experts truly align with what their metaphors suggest.


Negotiating across cultures

The text is about the importance of understanding cultural differences in negotiations. It highlights the need for awareness of varying communication styles, etiquette, and values when engaging in cross-cultural negotiations. By acknowledging and respecting cultural nuances, negotiators can build trust, establish rapport, and achieve successful outcomes in diverse settings.


Intercultural Communication and Diplomacy

Intercultural Communication and Diplomacy is a collection of papers presented at two conferences: the 2003 Conference on Intercultural Communication and Diplomacy, and the 2004 Conference on Organisational and Professional Cultures and Diplomacy.


International domain names from a multilingualism and security perspective

From an Internet governance perspective, multilingualism and security have been two of the cornerstone themes since its inception. The security theme addresses topics regarding the Domain Names System (DNS), Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), Internet attacks, security awareness, and policies and legal measures to ensure a safe and secure Internet experience. Security is a very diverse area where multiple topics should be tackled, and ignoring one or more topics while securing other areas would still jeopardise the safety of Internet users.


Who are diplomats?

Many remember Ivo Andric for his Nobel Prize for Literature. He is also remembered as a diplomat with over 20 years of experience. In his note on diplomacy, published here for the first time in English with the kind permission of the Andric Foundation, Andric describes who the diplomat is, and the qualities that those devoting themselves to diplomacy ought to have.


Intercultural competence and its relevance for international diplomacy

The changing nature of international diplomacy requires new knowledge and awareness of intercultural and other skills needed to perform effectively in the role of diplomat. The research presented in this paper serves to inform current and future planning for the selection, training, and evaluation of international diplomats.

Metaphor and War: The Metaphor System Used to Justify War in the Gulf

The text discusses how metaphors are used to justify war in the Gulf.


Lessons from two fields

A conversation between a diplomat and an interculturalist, combining real-life examples from the diplomatic field with intercultural theory.


An intercultural model for diplomacy training in New Zealand

This paper develops a model of diplomacy training based on intercultural competence and situated learning and applies the model to intercultural encounters.


Setting priorities for a ‘world language’ initiative

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Dr Donald Sola asks whether software innovation can make a contribution to the needs of those learning the world "languages of wider communication". He presents his work in developing computer-assisted language learning software, a multi-disciplinary activity not based simply on technology but also on the theory and practice of education and linguistics.


Theatre of Power: The Art of Signaling

Theatre of Power: The Art of Signaling discusses how strategic signaling plays a vital role in navigating power dynamics. Leaders can use various techniques to convey strength and influence, such as body language, attire, and other symbols. Mastering the art of signaling can help individuals assert dominance and command respect in various settings.

Summitry as intercultural communication

In one of his last essays before his premature death in 1972, Martin Wight described international conferences as ‘the set pieces punctuating the history of the European states-system, moments of maximum communication’.


Ambiguity versus precision: The changing role of terminology in conference diplomacy

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Of central concern in the field of negotiation is the use of ambiguity to find formulations acceptable to all parties. Professor Norman Scott looks at the contrasting roles of ambiguity and precision in conference diplomacy. He explains that while documents drafters usually try to avoid ambiguity, weaker parties to an agreement may have an interest in inserting ambiguous provisions, while those with a stronger position or more to gain will push for precision.


To joke or not to joke: A diplomatic dilemma in the age of internet

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): The first paper, presented by Prof. Peter Serracino-Inglott as the keynote address at the 2001 conference, examines the serious issue of diplomatic communication in a playful manner, through one of the most paradigmatic and creative examples of language use: joking.


Multiculturalism for the masses: Social advertising and public diplomacy post-9/11

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 have brought an old problem into new focus: how to unite a population potentially divided along racial, ethnic and denominational fault lines. In the light of unprovoked and indiscriminate racist attacks on Muslim-looking minorities, multi-media advertising campaigns were mounted in several countries in order to quell racism and sell multiculturalism. This paper examines the use of advertising campaigns as a medium for public diplomacy, and focuses on the promotion of national unity out of cultural diversity.


Misunderstood: The IT manager’s lament

Communication between information technologists and their clients – including diplomats - does not work as well as it should. We know that information technology has become ubiquitous. We also know that diplomats rely extensively on web services, electronic mail and documents in electronic form. Yet when communication does not work well, technologists poorly understand the needs of the diplomatic community. As a result, technical solutions may not address the real needs of end-users. This paper is a study on inter-professional miscommunication.


Language and Diplomacy

Language and Diplomacy is a collection of papers presented at the February 2000 Second International Conference on Knowledge and Diplomacy and the January 2001 Conference on Language and Diplomacy. The book examines traditional aspects of language in diplomacy: diplomatic signaling, rhetorical patterns and ambiguities; as well as new issues raised by information technology. The publication is available online.


DiploDialogue – Metaphors for Diplomats

On Diplo’s blog, in Diplo’s classrooms, and at Diplo’s events, dialogues stretch over a series of entries, comments, and exchanges and may even linger. DiploDialogue summarises. It’s like in sports events: DiploDialogue aims to bring focus by deleting what, in hindsight, is less relevant. In this first DiploDialogue, Katharina Höne and Aldo Matteucci discuss the usefulness of analogies and metaphors for understanding international relations and diplomacy.


Language and Diplomacy: Preface

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): In the preface below, Jovan Kurbalija and Hannah Slavik introduce the chapters in the book, and extract the general themes covered by the various authors.


Language and Power

The text discusses the relationship between language and power, highlighting how language can be used to manipulate and control individuals and societies. It explores how those in power often dictate the norms and values through language, influencing perceptions and behaviors. The text also emphasizes the importance of recognizing and challenging power dynamics embedded in language to promote equality and social change. Language is portrayed as a tool that can both reinforce and challenge power structures within a society.


Framing an argument

Dr Biljana Scott’s article on framing an argument introduces the linguistic and rhetoric aspects of persuasion. The way in which we frame an issue largely determines how that issue will be understood and acted upon. By dissecting Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech of December 2010, Dr Scott illustrates the main techniques for framing an argument.

Theories of persuasion and psychology: the power of situations

Throughout its history, humankind has been motivated to war, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, genocide, racist hysteria, religious intolerance and extremism, mass suicide and many other forms of irrational and pathological behaviour. The problem arises as Milan Kundera defines it, when we ask that terrible anthropological question – ‘What are people capable of’?


Language and Diplomacy

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Dr Abu Jaber brings a cross-cultural element to the discussion of language and diplomacy, surveying the historical development of diplomatic language particularly in the Arab world. However, he points out that the very idea of a language of diplomacy "is that it should not be culture-bound but an attempt at transcending such boundaries to create a quasi neutral vehicle of exchange." Abu Jaber notes that the language of diplomacy has to this date not been successful in resolving violence between nations and peoples. Yet he believes that solutions to violen...


Hypertext in diplomacy

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): The final paper in this volume, by Jovan Kurbalija, is based on the experience of ten years of research and development work in the field of information technology and diplomacy. Kurbalija explains the relevance and potential of hypertext software tools for the field of diplomacy.


Philosophy of Rhetoric

The author introduces a series of Essays on Rhetoric, explaining their origins and interconnection. This work has been a lifelong pursuit since 1750 and is structured based on a plan laid out in the first two chapters.


The languages of the Knights

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): In his examination of the languages used by the Knights of St John in Rhodes and Malta during the 14th to 16th centuries, Professor Joseph Brincat applies the methodology of historical linguistics. As an international and multi-lingual entity, the Order faced difficulties with its administrative methods intimately linked to linguistic issues.


Cultural content on the websites of diplomatic systems

The text discusses the importance of including cultural content on diplomatic systems' websites to promote understanding and build relationships between countries.


Intercultural communication in Macedonia: Different people, different stories

This papers examines how the Macedonians and the Albanians live in Macedonia. How do they communicate? Is there friendship everywhere? How do the two nations, live together, how do they communicate. The answer to this question coming from two different people may reveal two opposite viewpoints, the optimistic and the pessimistic. This paper focuses on communication between the Macedonians and the Albanians, considering that these are the two largest ethnic groups in the Macedona and even more, that these two groups were involved in the military conflict in 2001.


To Begin the World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders

When I feel dispirited about the current crop of political leaders in Switzerland or around the world, I like to take refuge in one of the most uplifting political stories of mankind – the American Revolution.


Language and negotiation: A Middle East lexicon

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Professor Raymond Cohen writes that "when negotiation takes place across languages and cultures the scope for misunderstanding increases. So much of negotiation involves arguments about words and concepts that it cannot be assumed that language is secondary." With numerous examples of the culturally-grounded references, associations and nuances of certain words and phrases in English and the Middle Eastern languages (Arabic, Turkish, Farsi and Hebrew), Cohen introduces his project of developing a negotiating lexicon of the Middle East as a guide for condu...


Diplomats as cultural bridge builders

Diplomats are people who are on the fringe somewhere, because they are either permanently living in or at least dealing with alien cultures, cultures with different values. The success of a diplomat depends on this brinkmanship because, on the one hand, they must remain credible with their superiors back home and, on the other hand, they must have access to the leaders in the country where they are posted. This paper discusses the role of diplomats as cultural bridge-builders.


Language, signaling and diplomacy

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Ambassador Kishan Rana introduces the dimension of diplomatic signalling. Beginning with a reference to the Bhagwad Gita, one of the sacred texts of the Hindus, Rana outlines the qualities of good diplomatic dialogue: not causing distress to the listener, precision and good use of language, and truthfulness.


Talking to Americans: Problems of language and diplomacy

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Professor Paul Sharp discusses negotiation with American mediators. He notes that most literature on negotiation is written to advise Americans and other Westerners about negotiating with foreigners.


Texts in diplomacy

Part of Language and Diplomacy (2001): Professor Dietrich Kappeler provides an overview of the various types of formal written documents used in diplomacy, pointing out where the practices surrounding these documents have changed in recent years. He also discusses multi-language treaties, including the difficulties of translation and interpretation.


Through the Diplomatic Looking Glass

This study presents and analyses books published by Italian diplomats. The more than seven-hundred and fifty titles listed give a broad and varied picture of diplomats and the diplomatic world. This volume evokes not only the talent for describing situations and characters, but also the broad, diverse interests that distinguish the members of this profession. As well, this study takes a broader view of relations between diplomacy and literature, examining the primary moments and protagonists of this relationship.


Persuasion: bad practices and … others

Persuasion is a very relative concept. Like beauty, persuasion is the eye of the beholder. Admittedly, persuasion does not exist in the absence of results. One can say that persuasion can be defined as such, if and only if it is effective and reaches its goals. If we accept this prerequisite, we may find persuasion where we least expect it.


The origins – where is the connection between persuasion and rhetoric?

As ancient rhetoricians believed that language was a potent force for persuasion, they insisted that their students develop copia in all spheres of their art. Copia denotes an abundant and ready supply of language in any situation that arises. Why did ancient teachers of rhetoric insist on this practice? Well, they knew that training their students in different rhetorical arts prepared them for the multitude of communicative and persuasive possibilities that exist in language.