How to Work for a Government You Don’t Agree With

The practice and operation of diplomacy is still as dangerous as it was prior to the Treaty of Westphalia. We have recently witnessed the murder of His Excellency Andrei Karlov, Russian Ambassador to Turkey, when a gunman shot him over atrocities in Syria led by the Russian government. In 2012, US Ambassador Chris Stevens and several diplomatic officers were killed in a terrorist attack in Benghazi as payback for the Libyan war.

Diplomats will always have a role in representing their national governments, sometimes at the cost of their personal liberty, values, and beliefs. When quitting is not the answer, the other option is to manage the situation without government policies reflecting personally on you. What will you do if you disagree with your government? How do you deal with lobbyists and civilians who blame you and your country for failing society? How do you stand up to a government bully when you are representing those very same policies abroad? Aligning yourself with a controversial Head of State may cause anxiety at times, but remaining empathetic to the concerns of others is key to maintaining control.

Here are some techniques to consider when operating on the ground and areas where Grassroot Diplomat can help consult in.

1. Expressing Yourself

In a situation when you do not agree with your government, consider a middle ground approach that highlights the facts without revealing any personal feelings. A good way to protecting integrity is to explain the policy, the reason why the policy is useful, why the policy is complicated, and the reasons the policy is in place to begin with. Offering a strategic outline will shield you from relaying your personal feelings whilst offering open conversation where you can negotiate a common ground with the interlocutor.

2. Art of Body Language and Facial Expressions

Understanding and interpreting body language and facial expressions is critical to open dialogue. Be warm and empathetic, showing that you understand their concerns. Keep your shoulders relaxed, and maintain eye contact that is open with concern rather than creased from frustration. Keep your toes pointed to them and hands loose at the waist. Non-verbal communication speaks more volumes than what you actually say, so ensure that your body language does not contradict your words. 

3. Drip Feed Information

Offer information in drips rather than revealing everything you know about the situation. This will ensure that you control the message and offer useful information that makes the interlocutor feel as though their time with you is valuable.

4. Keeping Cool Against Lobbyist

The job of a lobbyist is to get you to agree with their line of thought. While there may be a particular rulebook you follow when dealing with lobbyists, remind yourself where the red line is and how close you are to crossing it. Be open to engagement and avoid disagreeing outright to any demands that are being offered. Keeping the conversation casual will let the interlocutor know that they have not met with a closed door.

5. Keeping Close to Communities

Show the world that your government is not prejudiced or intolerant by staying close to communities outside of your national interest. Organise intense public diplomacy events that break stereotypes and misconceptions about one another. Work closely with members your government may have caused harm to and engage in cultural activities that harness greater understanding out into the open.

6. Off the Record

Nothing is ever ‘off-the-record’, so be weary of expressing personal feelings on government policy that may be used against you. This means refraining from making jokes that may be misinterpreted or offering advice that may go against government policies. If you wish to reveal information off the record to a trusted peer, gain assurance that your name will not be revealed as a source, and be clear when something you say is personal versus official.

7. Dealing with Aggression

Try not to take things personally when conversations turn aggressive. Accept what the argument is and agree that not enough is being done about it. Follow this up by offering a story that highlights areas the government is doing very well in as a comparison to negativities, and focus on softer diplomatic pursuits that the government is concentrating on against hard-lined policies.

8. Harnessing Data Story-telling

Use the embassy website to share positive stories that engages with the user and wider communities. Adding diaspora and cultural community engagements will illustrate your country as a tolerant and open society that accepts people from all faiths, backgrounds, and ethnicities. A good way to highlight policies on the ground is to share stories where policy objectives have been met at a more local level to prove its worthiness against sceptics and critics.

9. 50 Shades of Green

Investments are made when a country is politically more stable. However, an investor may suddenly find themselves no longer agreeing with a new government administration and look for a way out. Explain that the situation is not as black and white as it may be portrayed by the media, and offer positive incentives that will support their investment. Consider adding a corporate social responsibility element that highlights that their return in investment is also tied to environmental and community improvements. Show real examples of growth and how other similar businesses have flourished.

10. Get Trained

If you are a diplomat (or aspiring to become one) wanting to read body language, learn how to speak to your audience on an individual level and really sell your cause without sounding like an investment report, then register for the Diplomatic Leadership Training.

Let Grassroot Diplomat help you stand out amongst a sea of competition from other countries equally seeking to gain economic, trade and political influence. Places are strictly limited. Please get in touch with Nina Maxwell to offer you a discount: