All Family Law, All Around the WorldSM

The Language of the Diplomat

We had the honor, privilege and pleasure of spending a splendid evening this past weekend with Atlanta’s Consular Corp, the Consul Generals and Honorary Consul Generals of some 50 countries who handle their countries’ diplomatic demands for the south eastern United States. And they are stationed here, in Atlanta.

Their diplomatic work is broad and demanding. It extends from lofty work such as negotiating trade agreements to identifying business opportunities between the countries to State level networking through formal and informal State events to promoting their countries through cultural events to helping out their countries’ citizens when they are on foreign soil (like Georgia) and find themselves in some form of trouble.

The event was well attended by the international community, the State and local governmental community and the business community. The event was at times quite grand and at times quite relaxed with diplomats enjoying an opportunity to let their hair down at an event that celebrates them.

The diplomatic corp based in Atlanta are great, personable people, certainly with their own specific, national agendas, but also imbued with an expansive capacity to communicate with people. They are good, purposeful folks.

In case you haven’t noticed or in case you hadn’t heard, diplomats have their own language, how they talk. Whether we mean to or not, we all frame our statements, our conversations, our questions from a point of view and to press that particular point of view.

The language of the diplomat is, well, diplomatic. They have a way of expressing themselves, of pressing their point of view that goes down smooth, like honey encasing the medicine. They go out of their way to not give offence while still presenting the positions of their governments.

I like that.

Members of families, too, have their own manner and method of presenting and pressing their views. Sometimes that approach is rude and crass; sometimes that approach is hostile and somewhat threatening. (Those folks often wind up in divorce.)  But sometimes, the family members have found a way to talk to each other diplomatically, to press their own views, more like diplomats.

Here’s an example of diplomacy: instead of blaming the other, a diplomat would approach a difference differently, making her point less accusatory and more self deprecating. Instead of “you don’t understand me,” she might try, “perhaps I’m not making myself clear.” Instead of “you didn’t explain this point,” she might try, “I didn’t understand this point.”

Here’s another example, instead of asserting position statements, a diplomat might try responding with questions. “And how would your position fit in with …”
A diplomat might rephrase the other side’s statements, “let me see if I understand you correctly. Are you are saying…”

A diplomat would always let the other side know that they are heard, “I hear what you are saying.”

Often, by the time someone consults with us about a divorce, they are well past the point where communication is their biggest issue, but often, I think, it started there. And diplomacy at almost any time can go a long ways.

At the firm, we are called upon to use diplomatic language in all of our international family law work, of course. Our discussions about the facts of the case, the posture and procedure of the case and particularly about potential settlement options, is deeply couched in the most sensitive diplomatic language both to increase the likelyhood of a positive reception and also to acknowledge the treaty based nature of the dispute and its resolution.

But, family law, even when it is centered on, based upon, specific to localities, is also enhanced, improved by the language of diplomats. Their language improves difficult communications. Their language envisions even facilitates face-saving exits from difficult, perhaps even indefensible past behaviors. Their language creates the space that allows for relationships to repair and then thrive. And, when done right, that is the goal of family law.

I wish I could tell you that everyone in the practice approaches family law this way.  The profession certainly has more than its fair share of attorneys who see family law as blood sport and our profession certainly have more than our fair share of judges who see no difference between the way they handle family law cases and the way they handle business law litigation.

But as Teddy Roosevelt expressed it, “Walk softly but carry a big stick.”  Or as I have been quoted, “We offer an olive branch. If the other side rejects it, we have a nice stick to whack them with.”

Try walking softly. Try offering the olive branch. Try the language of the diplomats. It is the best way to keep the peace and it is often the best approach you could ever take.

-Michael Manely