December 13, 2017

Hospitality in diplomacy

By Dr. Huub Ruël.

Diplomacy is about dialogue and acknowledging the other as a partner. It is the lifeline of peaceful co-existence between nations, cities, regions, friends or foes. In today’s international order, diplomats are working hard because nationalism is spreading in many countries, beyond the nations and regions that are well-known for it. For example, the governments of countries such as Russia, China or Turkey have been feeding their citizens nationalist rhetoric via state-owned media for a long time.

But recently, nationalism has been on the rise in the Western world, Europe, Australia and North America. Nationalism feeds the antipathy for neighbouring countries and that can be responsible for creating a tense relationship between them. Examples of this are all around and can be most easily observed between major powers such as the United States and Russia or between the United States and China, but also between the Netherlands or Germany and Turkey. Diplomats have a hard job to interpret and soften the language politicians and heads of state use towards their host countries.

Much diplomatic communication is associated with etiquette, with explicit but also many implicit rules. The ‘traditional’ diplomat is usually raised and educated in an environment where these rules are paramount.

But despite ‘traditional’ diplomatic skills still being key in diplomacy, there is an emerging trend that requires more than them, and that is hospitality.  The ‘traditional’ diplomat mostly communicates with fellow diplomats. In the current and future international arena, a diplomat needs to be much more than just the eyes and the ears of her or his home country’s government in a foreign nation.

The new diplomats need to be service-oriented and interact with a wide range of actors, such as the business community, citizens, traditional and social media, NGOs and interest groups. They need to be able to be pro-active, always on the alert, a qualified expert with a service orientation towards the different actors. All this comes together in a key competence for the new diplomat, namely hospitality. Having the right knowledge and being aware of the diplomatic interaction etiquette is one thing, having a hospitable attitude is another.

Hospitality as a competence is about being able to be open minded, welcoming, serving and truly interested in people. It is about being able to give others that comfortable feeling that you can be trusted, that integrity is the highest value, and service a natural part of life. It opens doors that otherwise will stay closed or even unnoticed. It grants authority and is essentially the most powerful skill in interpersonal relationship building. It builds bridges to overcome differences in views and opinions.

The successful new diplomat needs to able to operate in an international arena with many different stakeholders, which is extremely politically sensitive. But the new diplomat is able to understand how hospitality is key above all. The web of stakes in the international arena is becoming more and more complex. Rather than relying on the assumption that authority comes with the status of being a diplomat, it is the competence to truly connect with people and stakeholders of all sorts and minds that makes the new diplomat more successful.

Hospitality as a competence can be trained to a certain extent, which is the good news. When combined with personality traits like open-mindedness and feeling comfortable in the presence of others who are different from yourself, it makes it easier to become the truly hospitable new diplomat.

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About the author:

Dr. Huub Ruël, Phd, is a Professor of International Hospitality Business at Hotelschool The Hague/The Hague Hospitality Business School.

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