Next up in our series of blog posts on core soft skills I am going to look at diplomacy and tact for assistants. Assistants have to possess a number of soft or interpersonal skills. Some are essential, some are nice-to-haves and others can be handy but not always necessary. Diplomacy (or at the very least tact) is an absolute must have. 

In my mind diplomacy is ‘the art of dealing with people in a sensitive and tactful way.’ It is the ability to communicate with people using an approach that considers their feelings and potential reaction to the situation. It is a skill that allows assistants to find common ground with every person at every level of business. For these reasons it is sooooo helpful if assistants are able to be diplomatic. But, let’s face it, diplomacy and tact are not easy skills to master – the world would be a much better place if everyone was diplomatic! Sometimes it can difficult to find common ground or to be able to communicate with someone that is demanding. Here are a few suggestions that may help you be diplomatic in those high pressure situations we often face as assistants.

Think before you speak

Oh how annoying! This is easier said than done isn’t it!? When a senior manager wants to get time in your Executive’s jam-packed diary and won’t take no for an answer it can be pretty difficult to take a step back and think about what you are going to say. But this is where diplomacy skills come in very very handy. Just take a few seconds to think about where this person is coming from (they are probably stressed on a tight deadline and need a decision from your Exec before they can complete their work) and adjust what you are going to say according.

Get to know people

Professional diplomats are also professional networks (they have the best parties). They get to know people and so should assistants. Understanding what is happening around you, what pressures people are facing and having a general sense of priorities in the workplace will enable you to be more diplomatic in your choices and in your communications. Telling everyone about your great promotion while a load of your colleagues have just been made redundant will not make you a popular person in the office! Simply being aware of what is going on will help enhance your diplomacy skills heaps!

Pick your battles

This is a piece of advice I have recently received from a mum of three small children and it very much applies to assistants as well! Diplomacy is not just about communicating effectively it is knowing when to walk away from conflict, when to simply get the task done or when to stand up for yourself and be heard. If you decide that conflict is inevitable there are a few simple tricks that ensure you stay on the right side of tact.

  • Keep to the facts
  • Deal with the issue at hand not the person and the many reasons they annoy you
  • Decide what do you want out of this conflict and what you hope to achieve in the process
  • Don’t raise your voice
  • When you disagree with someone have the resources to back up your opinion (you might want to do something this way, but I want to do it that way and here is why…)

You may think to yourself that this whole diplomacy thing seems like a lot of extra hassle when you have enough going on as it is. It might seem like going out of your way to be nice to, well, arseholes. But it is crucial that assistants are able to communicate with everyone in the most high pressured of situations. As a gatekeeper it is imperative that you mitigate the amount of … yes I’m going to use that word again… arseholes… that get into your Executive’s office. If you are, using our example, able to either deal with the Senior Manager’s request yourself or calm him down before he sees your Executive you will have saved your boss all that unnecessary hassle. A lot of our time is spent managing relationship and have diplomacy skills certainly helps that process.

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