On Being a Combative Diplomat

Some time ago, I wrote here that the best salespeople I have ever seen were combative. Many times here I have written an incomplete idea that I found valuable, only to find a better way to share it later. The post you are reading now is another example of identifying more of the truth by sitting with an idea for a long time.

A Strong Point of View

The two words I have strung together don’t seem to go together very well. They seem to be conflicting ideas, and in fact, they are in some ways very much in conflict. However, the tension is what makes this an interesting pair—and a more useful idea. The word “combative” means eager to fight. Before you take too much offense, let’s remember that we often “fight for what’s right,” and “fight for what we care about.” The word “diplomat” means someone who is effective with other people when there is a conflict of some sort or another.

To be someone that other people look to for help and advice, you must possess a set of beliefs that point to some truth, some right answer, some course of action that is better than other choices. Not only do you have to suggest ideas that conflict with the ideas of the people you are advising, but that may also conflict with popular ideas and approaches. The “combative” part of “combative diplomat” means that you are going to advocate for what is right, i.e. fight for it. The “diplomat” means that you are going to do so with great consideration for the people you are serving as you are pushing for what you believe is necessary.

Conflicting Ideas

What makes the combative diplomat effective is that they approach conflict as an opportunity to collaborate. They approach others in a way that causes them to leave their hands at their sides, open to exploring an idea—without feeling that they have to raise their hands and protect themselves.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” If Fitzgerald is right, what is better than a first-rate intelligence is the ability to execute two conflicting ideas as an approach to helping others improve.

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