Collins English Dictionary defines diplomacy as ‘the skill of being careful to say or do things which will not offend people’. I would carry the definition of diplomacy further than Collins and say that it includes the art of getting others to do things they might not otherwise have done.
I am not a good diplomat, but I truly admire this quality in others. The following example is one I have told to many; but it always worth repeating – if only for its simplicity of execution.
My friend, Seamus Fagan, and I travelled to China for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It turned out to be one of those trips of a lifetime. The fact that Ireland had three Mullingar Olympians participating; that one of them was Seamus’s nephew, Martin, as well as John Joe Nevin and John Joe ‘Johnny’ Joyce, was a source of great pride and joy.
That there were so few Irish out there meant we were ‘all in it together’ for everything that went on.
For example, I couldn’t believe that I was just standing there, when a door opened and I became the first person to talk to Paddy Barnes when he exited with his bronze medal. I got daily scoops and photos, which I dispatched every night to ‘The Westmeath Examiner’.
The Chinese authorities knew that the Olympics was an opportunity to showcase Beijing at its best – and they surely did that. We were treated like royalty by all the people – whatever their rank. Our hosts were very conscious that the world’s press was watching.
After being checked in to our lovely hotel, two porters proceeded to take us to our adjoining rooms. This turned out not to be to be the most auspicious start to our two week! The rooms were downstairs in the basement building. Don’t get me wrong … richly carpeted and beautifully furnished … but no daylight and no window you could open – something I always insist upon. There was the slightest hint of mustiness as well.
Soon thereafter, we both went to reception and asked if we could change our rooms. Gracious, polite, apologetic – but not a chance. I also told them that I needed to send reports home and that my laptop wasn’t working downstairs. A technician was down with a booster and had that problem sorted within 15 minutes. Everything, including this, was carefully noted by reception
I said to Fagan: ‘Forget about the rooms, or it will take some of the gloss off this trip. We are only sleeping here. Seamus nodded … sort of!
Everything on this roller-coaster was just so exciting and that night, next day, and the following night passed in a glorious twirl. I left O’Shea’s Pub before Seamus most nights, so I could file my piece back to the ‘Examiner’. This level of Internet engagement was new to me – and I marvelled that it could be done. Mind you, the Googling was restricted when you went to look up certain things.
On the second morning I met Seamus in the lobby and we headed for breakfast. After satisfying appetites and consuming copious coffees, my friend announced; ‘we are moving … come with me!’
This is the story of how that happened
When Seamus came in late the night before, he put charm and soft talk on the lovely receptionist. (I cannot tell a lie, Eileen!) ‘And do you have any spare rooms?’ he asked. ‘Yes, the law states we always have to keep two rooms empty for ‘special requirement’. ‘We have two rooms we don’t like – so is there any chance you can you give us the two you are holding and keep our two for special requirements?’ ‘I do not have authority, but I don’t see why not – but you will have to ask my senior colleague in the morning.’
Seamus was first man at the desk when the senior receptionist came on duty. He stated his case – just as charmingly! ‘No, I am so sorry; this is not possible: Every guest has to keep the room that is assigned to them at the booking.’ More bowing and charm – but the lady wasn’t for turning.
This is the bit you were waiting for ….
‘That’s alright … I understand … don’t worry about it … rules are rules … no problem.’ ‘I don’t mind at all – it’s the other fellow. My head is spinning with his complaints of where he has to work and sleep since we came to Beijing. You remember him … the nuisance you had to get his Internet working so he can send daily dispatches to his newspaper; the journalist’ “THE WHAT!!?”
‘We are moving’, he said … Two penthouse suites. Glass walls with breath-taking view of the city. Bowl of fruit and a bottle of wine each. (He drank my bottle too, Eileen!)
That’s diplomacy working at its best. Only thing I can’t understand is how come that Fagan was no diplomat on the hurling field or in the squash court!?
Tact is the art of removing the stinger from the bee and not getting stung.