Brief notes on intercultural diplomacy

1.Premise – In our previous work on Intercultural Diplomacy (Lobasso 2014), we tried to build a bridge between two river banks – that of intercultural communication and that of the diplomat’s profession – which, as already pointed out by renown contributions (Roest Croellius 2004, Slavik 2004 , Balboni, Caon 2010) are attracted to each other beyond imaginable.

The desire to go beyond the mere juxtaposition of these two dimensions, here projected towards a necessarily creative future, could only produce a seductive result: a starting point from which to pursue new ideas to add further meaning and value to the relationship activity of a diplomatic agent, his ability to communicate effectively, and his ability to include on his personal and professional journey richer portions of ‘life lived’.

On the one hand, this synthesis focus on the analysis of the protagonist in the exercise of diplomacy, the diplomatic agent itself, and, on the other, infusing this same protagonist with an ‘intercultural’ attitude (in the sense of inclusive progression and dynamics in contact with the diversity of international contexts) to establish a first ‘line of thought’ from which to hypothesise further conceptual expansions.

Here, what we want to expand is the intercultural field of the diplomat himself, as an individual with knowledge and skills, to the diplomacy, as an exercise in the service of the prolific development of international relations.

Before proceeding, a necessary clarification must be made on the use of the word ‘diplomatic agent’. Far from describing just the entire category of workers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (all of course, and not only those pursuing a diplomatic career), we mean all the people, i.e., every individual in continuous contact with what is the ‘Other’ somehow and which embraces the conviction that such interaction is a harbinger exercise of inner richness.

We would like to specify , also, that terms such as ‘culture’, ‘cultural’, ‘interculture’, ‘intercultural’ are used in this work with a conscious excess of freedom. Their ‘elastic’ use helps us to describe the dynamism of the vision that we propose to the reader. Therefore, accept our apologies for their non-orthodox use, especially when we talk about ‘culture’ to objectify figuratively a concept that is infinitely more dynamic, varied and sometimes indefinable; or ‘intercultural’ to describe a field that might be better defined as ‘multicultural’, at least in the early stages of its experiential perception.

On this last point we need to further clarify:

2. Inter- versus Multi-: an infinite story? – Too often, terms such as ‘multiculture’, ‘intercultural’, ‘intercultural dialogue’ are subject to unfair overlapping, where more in-depth reflection would lead to greater distance, and not only from a linguistic, formal or substantial standpoint, but we could say  even from almost existential one (for a recent insight into this idea, Barret 2013).

Filtzinger defines ‘multiculturalism’ as the «characteristic of a verifiable social situation (…), the coexistence of people coming from and socialising in different cultural contexts» (1992). The author’s definition, within the author’s thinking process, shares the meaning of ‘multiculture’ with that of a fact, a product of historical, migratory,  and social processes, which has a connotation (not too) subtly static.

According to others, ‘multicultural’ means an agglomeration in which peoples or ethnicities can be separated from each other, without necessarily getting in touch (Silva 2002). Moreover, the adjective ‘multicultural’ would define the existence of several «co-present cultures, but relatively separate in different ways and for various reasons.» (Demorgon 1998)

In other words, the term would describe a situation that could also be exhausted in the detection of different cultures in a given territory, net of interethnic processes, whether they are peaceful or conflicting.

Indeed, as highlighted above (Mantovani 2007) ‘multiculturalism’ was the initial answer to the ‘challenge of differences’ and corresponded to the need to support a conception of the ‘reification’ of culture (Baumann 1996) according to which culture is a thing, a distinctive characteristic of homogeneous social groups within them, to be preserved through the solution of ‘separation’.

It is a fact that the crystallization of the situation just described can ultimately generate a higher degree of static, a ‘multiculturalism in mosaic’, characterised by barriers, obstacles, indifference to difference or, better, tolerance without vivifying contact with the other (Mantovani 2004).

However, as pointed out by others (Giaccardi 2005), thinking that such diversity coexists without conflicts and reflecting homogeneous realities is a sign of ingenuity and excessive political and cultural simplification. «Cultures» are not uniform entities and, as they include contradictory factors, interferences and contaminations, are rather complex.

Such complexity, for example, is demonstrated by the fact that in a multicultural society the possible tendency to ethnocentrism by one of the dominant groups could entail attempts to assimilate the differences in the same space to the detriment of other possible manifestations of diversity.

As Audinet explains, «there is no multiculturalism without miscegenation. In fact, human groups, in mutual presence on the same territory, meet, mingle and mix languages, customs, symbols, bodies. They create something other than themselves, children who will be different from their origins. Only a force imposed (…) can prevent such a process (…). «(1999)

In this context, a social agglomeration composed of different cultures may, for a long time, perhaps remain through constantly resorting to the weak panacea of tolerance. Nevertheless, in the presence of elements of imbalance such as social, economic, religious crises, the peaceful status quo can be broken in the absence of a necessary valorisation of the diversity therein.

As a consequence, a multicultural society, of a static context condemned to a poorly virtuous crystallisation (and over time in the midst of conflicts), can become a remarkable problem because it is “less able to guarantee that security and social cohesion on which civil society and mass society were built in within the nation-state framework.» (Lanzillo 2005)

Against this background, trying to go beyond a mere multicultural vision seems necessary to «start thinking about the political and material conditions of equality that can ensure the overlap and interaction of languages and cultures (and not their enclosure in protected spaces, national or regional) «(Dal Lago 1996) or, in other words, to implement an exercise that is» an educational and relational response to multicultural and multi-ethnic society.»(Filtzinger 1992)

We are deeply convinced, even by anticipating that «the level of unification of the cultural diaspora immanent to multicultural democracies necessarily passes through the elaboration of an intercultural hermeneutic. Notwithstanding, any horizons of unification can only be considered a stage of a process that is destined to repeat itself indefinitely .»(Ricca 2008)

A highly desirable departure from the possible drought of a vision solely linked to the ‘multi- prefix’ necessarily leads to an in-depth analysis of the implications of the ‘inter-‘ prefix. This is also because «social language is transforming and in part already transformed. The physical and imaginary places of dislocation and manifestation of subjectivity have consequently lost their historical boundaries. The streams, the divisions between the domains of religion, politics, freedom and authority, the public and private areas, citizenship and consciousness are subject to a process of deep erosion, if not of shattering .»(Ricca 2008)

It is interesting, in this sense, an excerpt from the decision of the National Commission on Intercultural Education of December 12, 2000, L’intercultura comme nuova normalitá e sfondo integratore dell’a educazione, quoted in a paper authored by Nanni and Curci, according to which «(…) interculturality is a movement of reciprocity. The prefix ‘inter-‘ means exchange, interaction and thus overcoming the unidirectional process of knowledge transmission. True cultural interaction stimulates the subject to open up to the decentralisation and the circularity of the points of view.”(2005)

According to the authors, «(…) interaction means (…) reciprocal transfer of ‘cultural magma’ and the possibility of new «grafts «in the cultural genealogy of a subject or social group.» (Nanni, Curci 2005) The intrinsic median value, of connection, of linking the ‘inter’ prefix seems to embody a relational exercise in which their respective differences establish a dialectical relationship and mutual enrichment based on mutual respect and interest in the other.

If it is true that today’s plethora of social relationships, far from a very unreliable static in dialogical terms, continually confronts cultural models, attitudes, needs, behaviours, there seems to emerge a necessary need to seek «a dynamic relationship between (…) entities that reciprocally confer a sense of each other» (Lipiansky 1991), or also a «process of negotiation between proximity and distance that is intended to build bridges of communication between neighbours (Leclercq 2003).»

With its intentional characteristic, and thus the recovery of a volunteer function as the potential patrimony of every individual, interculturality seems to best respond to the generality of the needs of contemporary society where confrontation – moreover in times of global crisis – places at the centre of every existential question the active and conscious participation of the human being within scenarios that are constantly changing and transforming.

Moreover, it is not wrong to say that the same ‘intercultural’ adjective, not necessarily net of ‘inter-national’, describes almost all interpersonal relationships, although it is true that every human being is somehow bearer of a vision, of a different perspective, the result of their psychogenic and experiential heritage (Hofstede 1991).

Additionally, while it is true that «intersubjectivity is to be understood as the minimal unit of cultural production and because it is in communicative interaction (…) that it gives the possibility to build understanding through the construction of common meanings (…), [it seems right to conclude] that culture (…) is characterised by an internal dynamic, capable of self-generating but not transcending, which has in its radical forms of subjective interaction [its] factory of meaning (… ) and its fundamental junction (Comincini 2012).»

Beyond tolerance, ultimately, there is the exchange, the exit from the so-called comfort zone, seeking mutual legitimacy to represent added value, enrichment to the context from and in which to live. And this is precisely «in an attempt to mobilize and overcome the concepts of (…) multiculturalism and assimilation [in a field where, over time] new natives do not [hold] any more unquestioned primacy but [share] with a new cultural, social and institutional process where interculture becomes the obligatory indicator. (Padoan 2012)

As shown above, «incompleteness is therefore the elective category of the intercultural relationship that does not tend to look for certainty but rather to identify the dynamic equilibrium that may be in the development of relationships between subjects in a particular context.» (Balboni, Caon 2010)

In an intercultural field, ultimately, «knowledge is within the action and action is in turn in the adaptive relationship between the agent and his environment.» (Mantovani 2004)

In this regard, it is interesting to note that, recently, the positions and actions of Governments and Institutions have also settled on agreeing that the path towards internal or foreign policies based on multiculturalism as an encouragement to live separately and in peace, by virtue of cultural diversity itself, shall be gradually abandoned.

In February 2011, at the 47th Security Conference in Munich, British Premier Cameron called for a new common vision of society, an alternative to the failure of multiculturalism, «a primary antidote to extremism and blind tolerance.»

A year earlier, Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the door to this approach when, in a meeting with young supporters of her political party in Potsdam’s, declared that multiculturalism as ‘living happily side by side’ failed.

In the light of the above, we agree with the assumption that «when multiculturalism becomes perceptible, the interculturality of our vital actions and of our own identity is a fact already made. If multiculturalism is the perceptible present (…), interculturality (…) is the future in progress. A future that immediately knocks at the doors (…) spreading pervasively between the junctions of everyday life (…).»(Ricca 2008)

In an attempt to intercept this future in action, we will try to trace a first synthesis of the different facets of the term ‘intercultural’ (developed in previous works, Lobasso, Petri 2010, Lobasso 2013) with the intention of focusing on some key concepts and understanding the subsequent terminological transition to ‘intercultural dialogue’ more easily.

Interculture presupposes dynamism, exchange, creativity, movement. Interculture implies equal dignity, an equal cultural background from which the exchange can be as productive, dynamic and creative as possible.

Interculture has his centre represented by the individual, in his complexity, versatility, in his potential to know, metabolise and gradually ‘act’ on the novelty (and challenge) of diversity.

It is, therefore, natural that the search for new inter-individual meeting points is essentially an activity of mutual manifestation and, therefore, of dialogue, understood in its most noble sense, namely that of dia-légein, of union (from the initial separation) of different knowledge, through the encounter of diversity and starting from the assumption of a mutual recognition, of ‘exotopia’, as «an adequate attitude to recognise the culture of the Other as different from our own» to use an expression of Michail Bachtin.

On the meaning of ‘intercultural dialogue’ an infinity of sources is available. However, given the considerable amount of work that has been done, it seems appropriate to align ourselves with what has been produced recently by international institutions such as the Council of Europe (CoE) and UNESCO, which have dedicated years of remarkable contributions to the theme.

According to the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue of 2008 of the CoE, «intercultural dialogue is understood as a process that comprises an open and respectful exchange of views between individuals and groups with different ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds (…) it operates at all levels – within societies, between the societies of Europe and between Europe and the wider world. (…) [This] offers a forward-looking model for managing cultural diversity. It proposes a conception based on individual human dignity (embracing our common humanity and common destiny), (…) [that in turn] enables us to move forward together, to deal with our different identities constructively and democratically on the basis of shared universal values. (…) may help appreciate diversity while sustaining social cohesion.”

Also, according to the White Paper, intercultural dialogue represents intercultural dialogue is understood as  “(…) a process that comprises an open and respectful exchange of views between individuals and groups with different ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds (…). It requires the freedom and ability to express oneself, as well as the willingness and capacity to listen to the views of others. Intercultural dialogue contributes to political, social, cultural and economic integration and the cohesion of culturally diverse societies. It fosters equality, human dignity and a sense of common purpose. It aims to develop a deeper understanding of diverse world views and practices, to increase co-operation and participation (or the freedom to make choices), to allow personal growth and transformation, and to promote tolerance and respect for the other.”

In line with previous questions regarding an attitude that only favours a multicultural approach, for the CoE “the risks of non-dialogue need to be fully appreciated. Not to engage in dialogue makes it easy to develop a stereotypical perception of the other, build up a climate of mutual suspicion, tension and anxiety (…) and generally foster intolerance and discrimination. [In other words] Shutting the door on a diverse environment can offer only an illusory security. A retreat into the apparently reassuring comforts of an exclusive community may lead to a stifling conformism. The absence of dialogue deprives everyone of the benefit of new cultural openings, necessary for personal and social development in a globalised world. Segregated and mutually exclusive communities provide a climate that is often hostile to individual autonomy and the unimpeded exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Resulting from the integration of the rationale of the document mentioned above, it is worth recalling some passages of the UNESCO World Report of 2009, Investing in Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue.

According to this UN body, the challenge to be taken is “to propose a coherent vision of cultural diversity and thereby to clarify how, far from being a threat, it can become beneficial to the action of the international community. (…) discover in this ‘difference’ an incentive for continuing to evolve and change (…) through processes of mutual interaction, support and empowerment. [Even more properly] rather than knowledge of others, what determines the success of intercultural dialogue is the basic ability to listen, cognitive flexibility, empathy, humility and hospitality. [Moreover] it is necessary to develop new approaches to intercultural dialogue, beyond the limitations of the ‘dialogue among civilizations’ paradigm. The prerequisites include consideration of the ways in which cultures relate to one another, awareness of cultural commonalities and shared goals, and identification of the challenges to be met in reconciling cultural differences.”

Therefore, always in view of overcoming an exclusively ‘multicultural’ vision it is recognised that “Cultures are not self-enclosed or static entities. One of the fundamental obstacles to intercultural dialogue is our habit of conceiving cultures as fixed, as if fault lines separated them. One of the main objections to Samuel Huntington’s thesis of a ‘clash of civilizations’ civilizations’ is that it presupposes singular rather than multiple affiliations between human communities and fails to take account of cultural interdependency and interaction. To describe as fault lines the differences between cultures is to overlook the porosity of cultural boundaries and the creative potential of the individuals they encompass. Cultures, like individuals, exist in relationship to one another.”

Ultimately, also according to UNESCO, “the key to successful intercultural and interfaith dialogue lies in the acknowledgement of the equal dignity of the participants. This presupposes recognition of – and respect for – diverse forms of knowledge and their modes of expression, the customs and traditions of participants, and efforts to establish a culture-neutral context for dialogue that enables communities to express themselves freely. (…) [Also] through capacity building and [fostering] projects [aimed at] (…) permit[ing] interaction without a loss of personal or collective identity.”

Supported by the analysis made above, much more significant than our analysis, we naturally ‘dubbed’ with which we stimulated the first evidence of mutual attraction: interculturalism, in relation to the world of international relations, undoubtedly expresses the most noble, constructive and cooperative part of its function, that of dialogue, that of mutual listening, that of participatory and dynamic observation, aiming to include every aspect of his interlocutor to achieve higher levels of relational performance, due to the greater inclusion of elements of the ‘Other’, at a first glance unseen and  ‘unread’.

3. Intercultural competences of a diplomatic agent. –  To clarify important concepts for continuing our work based on the growing importance of the intercultural thematic in the field of international relations (further developed in, Lobasso 2013), we will try to mainly blend the workplace of the diplomatic agent and the possibility of carrying out his activities ‘interculturally’ – an adverb that never as in this case fully reveals its etymological nature: ‘with an intercultural mind’.

There are not many written works about the figure of the diplomat, his activities and his attitudes (for a rich and well informed vision see, Varè 1953).

We reiterate that the use of the term ‘diplomatic’ and ‘diplomatic agent’ responds only to an end of terminological economy. However, we are well aware of its wider meanings, to embrace every professional figure who witnesses in their daily life, at home or abroad, a continuous contact with ‘other’ cultures.

The late Ambassador Biancheri wrote at the end of his most representative work «(…) Understanding history, understanding what is happening in the world means knowing Men first, knowing what every human community has done and what social model it has been given, its goals, its ideals and its fears. It means understanding and, thus, respecting the peculiarities of each human society and allowing it to prosper, even if it seems irrational and inconsistent, as long as it does not undermine the right of another human society to do the same. This work of interpreting the diversity of the world, of adjusting the interests of the other, of seeking convergence, of a composition of contrasts, this work of analysis and persuasion, sometimes aimed at minimal things sometimes at the greatest things, is the work of diplomats (…) is not within a generation or even two or three that this function will lose its value.” (1999)

In a useful e-book on the diplomatic career for aspiring candidates to enter the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (Diplomentor 2010), a beautiful expression of Harold Nicholson, diplomat, essayist and English politician of the last century enshrines this same idea: “These, then, are the qualities of my ideal diplomatist. Truth, accuracy, calm, patience, good temper, modesty and loyalty. They are also the qualities of an ideal diplomacy. But, the reader may object, you have forgotten intelligence, knowledge, discernment, prudence, hospitality, charm, industry, courage and even tact. I have not forgotten them. I have taken them for granted” the italics are ours).

This focus on the need for a diplomatic agent to possess (and develop) not only professional but also personal (especially relational) attitudes is generally shared not only by ‘active attachés’ but also reclaimed from outside the world of diplomacy, which constantly interacts with it.

It is a fact that the activity of a diplomat, especially during his duties abroad, is filled by constant communication exercises, at all levels and in various circumstances.

As it has been recalled, «the ability to relate to one’s neighbour, and to welcome, it is one of the fundamental parameters of a diplomat’s evaluation; (…) the development and maintenance of profitable interpersonal relationships, not only in his work abroad but also in the tasks he is called upon to do at home, is vital in [his] profession; (…) the diplomat must be able to organise events; able to cope with state visits, bilateral and multilateral summits; be ready to know how to better juggle in events and encounters of the most varied nature, so it is the interpersonal relationship that becomes the fulcrum of his success or professional failure. «(Ronca 2011)

Nothwithstanding, the above cannot be taken for granted.

To put it as Decourcelle, in Doctor Gregory’s formula, a diplomat goes «the longest way between two points».

Versatility, professional multiplicity, continuous alternation (in Rome and abroad) by and with colleagues, leaders, friends, acquaintances, associates, partners, and many other types of people enriching the personal and professional life of a diplomat, imposing in a natural (if not necessary) way the ability to know how to relate, and above all to feel as well as to listen, to observe as well as to look, to ponder as well as to judge, to decode, to include, to understand, to acknowledged, to synthesise.

A versatility that, far from evoking superficial or reductive meanings, in the words of the journalist Thomas Friedman (in The World is Flat), implies profound aptitude to develop «abilities to progressively expand goals, situations and experiences, acquire greater skills, to build relationships and assume new roles [for this responsibility].»

With this, we do not want to suggest the diplomat as having superhuman attitudes or capabilities. On the contrary, in a work published a few years ago on the diplomatic figure, witty, ironic, punctual in content and ‘shopping tips’, it is clearly stated that «(…) today homologation pays off, to be considered part of an ‘elite’ is the modern equivalent (…) of being thrown into Dante’s circle in which the sin of pride is forgiven (…).” (De Agostini 2006)

However, it is true that the diplomat’s profession (from the multifaceted knowledge required from young aspirants to overcome the competition and to enter the diplomatic career) is particularly rich in facets that, if at the beginning of his journey, fill the sphere of ‘knowledge’, in the development of his work, are subjected to a necessary confrontation with the level of ‘skills’.

In other words, while starting from a solid and thorough preparation in a remarkable variety of arguments, a diplomatic official is likely to find, after a fortnight of work between Italy and abroad, to have multiplied his work experience and to have developed a multitude of activities such as «(…) conflict broker, ghost writer, public relations officer, administrator, lobbyist, public speaker, protocol and ceremonial expert, commercial promoter, promoter of cultural events, interpreter, logistical , [liaison officer], security expert (Diplomentor 2010).

So many different activities cannot remain unconnected in the absence of a minimum common denominator of reference.

In our opinion, it is with this awareness that the natural journey of a diplomat in search of his ‘skills’ , as conductive wires that somehow interweave and keep in balance his multiple, not easily manageable ‘professional sub-personalities’.

The same awareness so useful to accept with patience that «in any other career as in the diplomatic profession it is possible to see with how little wisdom is ruled the world.» (Varè 1953)

In other words, we want to emphasise the importance of highlighting the need for a diplomat (today more than ever in a society permeated by mass communications) to become aware of the need to identify and develop a range of skills that, sometimes unconsciously, other consciously, accompanies him in his entangled work path (and not only) and, without doubt, help him to perform his job better.

To reiterate the ideas mentioned above, we want to further highlight that it is necessary to develop the particular skills set that allow the diplomatic agent to interact more appropriately, and effectively, in a diversity of communicative and relational contexts.

Our point is that this is not just an idealistic belief that we propose to the reader as a medicine whose healing qualities are transmitted ‘for having read’ or only based in the personal experience of the author. We note that the US research field on optimisation of workplace performance has often gathered insights from the world of diplomacy and its officials. The American Foreign Ministry has always been known to be active in commissioning intercultural studies aimed at improving the level of activities of its officials around the world in «other» contexts, especially when deeply complex (McClelland, Dailey 1972, 1973) .

Very briefly (for further analysis see Boyatzis 1982, Spencer, Spencer 1993, Le Boterf 1997), a competence «is not a state but a process, and lies in the mobilisation of the individual’s resources (theoretical and procedural knowledge, experiential and social too), and not in the resources themselves; it is thus a know how to act (or react) in response to a given situation-problem, in a given context, in order to achieve a performance on which other subjects (superiors and colleagues) will have to make a judgment.” (Le Boterf 1994)

Leaving aside the world of ‘basic skills’ and ‘technical-professional skills’ (not useful for the path proposed here), let us focus on the ‘transversal skills’. They «relate to a set of broad-minded skills associated to various kinds of professional tasks that occur in different work situations that allow the individual to cope with new and unpredictable situations of the organizational environment (…)” (Petracca 2005).

More specifically we can say, following a useful publication of the Institute for the Development of Professional Training of Workers (ISFOL), that cross-disciplinary skills embrace a large scope of exercises: that of ‘diagnosing’ (i.e., the ability of an individual to analyse and evaluate the best of the situation in which he is operating); that of ‘relationships’ (that is the set of socio-emotional abilities that lead to interact with others, mapping and controlling one’s and others’ emotions, as well as properly perceiving the other and his demands); and that of ‘dealing with’ (knowing how to deal with a problem with better possibilities of solving it, implementing strategies aimed at achieving the goals set).

First and foremost, we want to propose the translation of this publication into concrete ideas applicable to the world of international relations and the actors involved, we believe that the ability to observe from an inclusive multi-perspective the surrounding reality (in practice, knowing how to diagnose); and  to recognise and manage their emotional world and to identify and incorporate the emotional world of others in interpersonal communication (therefore knowing how to relate and, in part, be aware of something or someone), are characteristics that would greatly benefit the personal and professional activity of a diplomatic official.

Let us develop this idea further.

To improve the observation capacity useful to the numerous and varied international contexts in which a diplomatic agent moves, we believe that we cannot ignore an attitude that is first described as ‘exotopic ‘, i.e., the”acceptance of the other [only] because it is different from him (…) in a dialogic tense where extraneousness is considered a necessary condition for understanding (…).»(Sclavi 2003)

Moreover, the activity of a diplomatic official is characterised by a continuous (often creeping) identity negotiation, in contact with the cultural dimension of ‘others’ – sometimes profoundly ‘other’ as it is in the case of values ​​– and this challenge imposes the tenure of a significant reserve of emotional energy. More specifically, we believe that his activity can in no way be isolated from those individual characteristics which, according to Gardner, fall within the «interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences», namely «the ability to understand others, their motivations and their way of work, discovering at the same time how it is possible to interact with them in a cooperative way [and] the inward-looking ability [i.e] the ability to form an accurate and truthful model of oneself and to use it to operate effectively in life.»(Gardner 1993)

The above can also be translated as «the ability to motivate oneself and persist in pursuing a goal of controlling impulses and postponing gratification (…) of modulating one’s moods … be empathetic and patient [since] (…) emotionally competent people – those who know how to control their feelings, read and treat others effectively – benefit in all fields of life, both in intimate relationships and in grasping the implicit rules that lead to success (…) [and they also have] (…) more chances of being content and effective in life, being able to adopt mental attitudes that fuel productivity. (…) Men with great emotional intelligence are socially balanced, expansive, cheerful (…) have the distinct ability to devote themselves to other people or a cause, to take responsibility and to have ethical views and perspectives … their emotional life is rich but appropriate (…) feel comfortable with themselves, with others, and in the social universe they live in (…).»(Goleman 1995)

Personal and professional abilities, which in some way imply the management of other emotional worlds and one’s own, stimulate the individual to relate with others more openly and with more awareness, to inspire the surrounding reality with expanded consciousness and, free from prejudice, find a more obvious reason for being in an intercultural context.

In the UNESCO World Report of 2009 entitled Investing in Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue, this assumption becomes clearer in the very definition of intercultural competence, this is “These abilities are essentially communicative in nature, but they also involve reconfiguring our perspectives and understandings of the world; for it is not so much cultures as people – individuals and groups, with their complexities and multiple allegiances – who are engaged in the process of dialogue.”

To summarise, if it is true that the work of a diplomat, more so while in service abroad, needs transversal (and intercultural) skills that somehow harmoniously bind the worlds of cognitive, affective and relational understanding in the exercise of his functions, it seems imperative that the diplomatic agent also adopts an explorative and inclusive (exotopic) attitude that strengthens the diversity of what has been observed.

Similarly, it is crucial to stimulate the discovery and emergence of others’ affective dimensions and one’s own so that a sort of ‘Holy Alliance’ is forged between intellectual and emotional understanding for the benefit of a richer, more detailed, and truthful view of the contexts in which the diplomatic agent interacts.

4.  Diplomacy and Intercultural Dimensions – In our previous work (Lobasso 2013), we elaborated on the evolutionary path of the international context of the last fifty years to show that the  most significant areas affected by the life of international relations (such as politics, economics, finance, culture, commerce) have become gradually coloured with intercultural tints, in the sense of preferring a dynamic, evolutionary and, above all, benevolently inclusive pace of reciprocal diversity to a defensive position of the actors in place.

In that work, we reached that conclusion by analysing a series of acts, normative or semi-normative productions whose results led us to where we initially thought of being able to reach. It is our intention, here, to reach the same conclusions, but through a different path, that is to analyse some of the cultural dimensions that by their very nature acquire specific peculiarities if read in an intercultural context and within which the diplomacy and (old and new) actors in the sphere of international relations seek a continuous and necessary balance.

In other words, once macro analyses have been carried out, such as those of international organisations such as the European Union, UNESCO, Council of Europe, which have over the years proved to be able to evolve in an intercultural way, and having measured the micro-dimension of the diplomatic profession which learned to raise awareness to its intercultural action, we want to go back to the aforementioned macro-dimension where the fusion of international relations and intercultural dialogue is even deeper and acquires characteristics of intercultural diplomacy.

The value dimension, in this sense, is perhaps the most representative topic to depart from to achieve our goal here.

Almost unanimously, the researchers on the intercultural domain give paramount importance to values, as a sphere of influence in which the diversity of positions (interpersonal and intergovernmental) dialogically seeks to encounter common ground (just to name a few authors with this line of thought, Hofstede 1991, Bennet 1993, 1998, Balboni 2007, Balboni, Caon 2014).

By resorting and expanding on a happy metaphor proposed by Hofstede, the dialogic-communicational discomfort due to the diversity of values is like a software that suddenly acts and begins to operate only after the foundational parameters of its structure collide with ‘different’ ones that it heard, observed, perceived.

Additionally, we would add that the value dimension, located very deep in the individual, assumes even a hardware level, a hard drive in which his identity is structurally built.

Diversity of values can, therefore, generate very strong reactions as it lays itself at the deeper level of human consciousness, obliging us to revise more often the foundations of our identity sphere and confronting us with the ‘other’s’ equally complex and uncomfortable dimensions.

More so, if we imagine that to his respective mental hardware, each individual adds throughout his existence a whole set of experiential software that somehow tries to interchange harmoniously with that hard drive, making the encounter of diversity more challenging.

After all, “values demand relativity. Relativity refers to society: homo educatus = homo sociologicus educatus: products (relatively) socialised within absolute ‘logics’ of collective sharing.” (Lanza di Scalea et al., 2012)

In order to better understand what we mention above, we will examine some value components, from an intercultural context and from the professional perspective and vision of a diplomatic agent. We will naturally analyse only a few, focusing on the ones that seem to be most representative of the ideas that we want to explore for the purposes of this paper, being aware of the enormous discussion and other contributions available on the topic.

Time, in its immense variety of interpretations, can be a banana peel on which intercultural communication – not only at inter-individual but above all at inter-institutional level – can slip dramatically.

An important differentiation in this regard was proposed by Hall (1976), which first identified the difference between ‘monochromic’ and ‘polychromic’ time, that is, the split use of the time component to achieve a single objective or, contrarily, the existence of a plurality of times and objectives that can be handled simultaneously.

Naturally, at the intercultural level, the potential communicative crisis lies in the (premature) judgment of a ‘monocronist’ versus a ‘policronist’ and vice-versa: the first, accused of excessive pragmatism; the second, accused of superficiality or of little determination in pursuing its goals.

This differentiation can be transposed to the government level.

In a meaningful contribution (Carnevali 2010) gives an excellent example of contrasting visions of time in international relations, particularly in the context of the post-World War I negotiations in the Middle East.

In fact, the analysis focussed on the uneasiness of intercultural communication – hence a potential reduction in the level of performance for achieving the pre-established international policy objectives – resulting from a series of letters sent between 1915 and 1916 between Hussein Emir, Sheriff of Mecca and the High Commissioner for Egypt MacMahon, with the aim of reorganising the geopolitical structures of the area following the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

In more detail, the contribution emphasises the ‘Islamic policronist time’ of the Emir Hussein – with position that it was possible to overlap multiple temporal situations in order to reach more objective goals – and MacMahon’s ‘British monocronist time’ – for which it was preferable to address a topic at a time, in a single, temporal, substantive, linear and well-defined succession – clashed up to the point of compromising many of the outcomes of the ongoing negotiation.

The temporal issue becomes more complicated when it intersects with another value component, or rather cultural-value: the level of responsiveness in the confrontation with uncertainty (Hofstede, 2004).

By elaborating on the analysis of the Dutch scholar – which circumscribes the uncertainty to the sole experience of contact with cultural diversity – for some cultures the greater meticulousness in achieving a single goal, in addition to responding to strictly timely motivations, may depend on the need to ‘exorcise’ the uncertainty of the result through the profusion of more energy and concentration in the realisation of that objective.

Naturally, such behaviour hardly envisages the possibility of proceeding with ‘parallel times’, with the result that the profusion of energies on several fronts by individuals belonging to some cultures can be evaluated negatively (if not forced) by individuals belonging to other cultures who pursue individual goals.

As a result, a culture in which somehow is recognised a low level of tolerance towards uncertainty will also likely be characterised by having particular attachment to the rules, the maintenance of order, and respect precisely because of its components.

This assumption goes hand in hand with the activities of a diplomatic agent, and more generally with an efficient action of intercultural diplomacy. Gaining awareness of the viscosity of the cultural-value component of time, or of the possible diversity of discomfort levels of our interlocutors in situations, or results, of uncertain outcomes at the intercultural level, means optimising the performance of all those international relations activities (i.e., the negotiation) that in any way are made of those permeated components.

Another cultural-value theme that, in some ways, may exhibit degrees of complexity at the intercultural level is power and all the related manifestations of thereof, such as the concept of hierarchy and/or distance between the power and the one who is subject to it.

A hierarchical structure is a component sometimes visible, sometimes hidden. The amount of signals offered in an intercultural context, which often help us to understand ‘who commands’, does not always allow for recognisable decoding.

Overcrowded collaborators, sophisticated gadgets, personalized transport, and boosted personal security, wider work spaces, deferred interlocutors, are not unanimously readable power representations. If we want to represent a hierarchical structure like a pyramid (and with it, the distance between the vertex and the base), we can say that sometimes it is steep and pointed, sometimes it is crushed and rounded.

In other words, we are talking about an even deeper concept (referring Hofstede’s work), according to which there are important cultural differences (and therefore intercultural approaches) between countries, groups and social structures where the distance between the ‘summit’ ( power) and the ‘base’ (citizens) is more or less marked.

It is not just to observe that distance from the perspective of who manages power, but also, and above all, from the distance of those who do not handle it. We will find, for example, that such distance is understood in variable forms for which some cultures may have an «imprinting» rooted in the consciousness of their components in terms of more or less legitimacy (acceptance) of that distance.

Moreover, the diverse facets of the hierarchical element may strongly distinguish some cultures for which this element is ‘rigid’, ‘impenetrable’, while for others it is permeable, regardless of the minor or greater level of distance between the vertices and the base of the pyramid.

In recent years, the intercultural aspects of working structures set up on a hierarchical basis within the diplomatic field has gained increasing importance due to the development of European diplomacy (the European External Action Service) and the multiplication of diplomatic agents of EU Member States and job opportunities at the European Delegations working abroad. This meant a parallel development in working environments in which, volens nolens, diplomatic agents learn to manage personal and professional relationships often in the presence of marked cultural differences (and values).

Indeed, in the intercultural context, the terms ‘hierarchy’ and ‘power’ acquire diversified connotations, sometimes very far from the initial meaning of ‘sacredness’ found in the Greek root ieròs or the sense of ‘domination’, ‘protection ‘ reflected by the Sanskrit root patyate.

The intercultural diplomat is, naturally, aware of the importance of the ‘power’ factor or the variable nature of hierarchical perceptions of the public or private entities that he is in contact with, especially within his relational activities abroad.

A distinguished ‘interlocutor-entity’, for example, in contact with high levels of distance between the peak and the base of the pyramid or in the verge of hierarchical rigidity, will resort to appropriate, structured communication and negotiation approaches to avoid that the excess of relational informality (perhaps self-justified by the desire to achieve in a shorter time the expected result) will stiffen his interlocutors.

Conversely, the possible permeability of a hierarchical structure or even the ‘crushing’ of the pyramid until approaching considerably vertices and base (power holders and not) could suggest opposite approaches and perhaps greater margins of improvisation.

Intercultural awareness primarily means avoiding superstructures of mind and prejudice, both in a common, straightforward sense, but also on a modern one, that could justify the creation of new conceptual rigidities, precisely in the name of the appreciation (and defence) of cultural diversity .

Ours task is ‘other’.  A balanced, waving process that starts from the dynamism and multiplicity of meanings that originate precisely from the ‘inter-suffix’, which in turn multiply by changing relational, communicative conditions, time, spaces and actors in the game.

Another cultural and value factor of unquestionable importance, in international and intercultural contexts, are social relations.

Naturally, we are not only thinking about family, parenting, or friendship: the radius extends to include whole relational modalities operating in human societies such as groups, ethnicities, countries or, to put it simply, cultures.

In the aforementioned contributions (Hofstede 1991, 2004) much space is devoted to the differentiation between the socio-cultural groups ‘individualists’ and ‘collectivists’.

In the first case, and trying to avoid the trap of generalisation, we are confronted with human societies that perceive social relations and interpersonal contacts as a fundamental field of expression of individual freedom, free will, mutual independence, also (and perhaps above all) where mutual goals clash to the point of conflictual confrontation.

In the second case, on the other hand, we refer to human societies that attribute to the concept of ‘group’ more importance than the one given to the individual, to the extent to which even the personal interests of individuals are subjugated to the benefit of a ‘superior’ purpose, namely the preservation of the well-being of the group.

It is like looking at a scale that changes between two opposites: the individual as such and the individual as a member of an entity. Although both have rules, norms, customs, prohibitions, a human society that advocates for the superiority of the group will often be very different from one that recognises the individual his/her priority regarding existential self-expression.

The repercussions of this contrast will be observed in the very nature of inter-individual relationships (the so-called ingroup, likely more strong, solid, rooted, and probably more safeguarded in relations with the outside world and outgroup) in ‘collectivist’ societies than in ‘individualist’ societies and cultures. Moreover, the effects of these different characteristics may impact on the nature of interpersonal conflicts, in their own definition, in their prevention, management and resolution.

All this has grander importance, in an intercultural context. To illustrate it, lets imagine the possible discomfort in the encounter between interlocutors: one with strong convictions on the importance of expressing his disagreement in any circumstances, (individually, not within the context of a special professional category or a trade union) and the other who acknowledges the need to confine freedom of expression in the name of the superior well-being of all the members of the group to which it belongs.

A culture that strongly emphasises the free expression of the individual, will with a certain degree of probability, be attentive to the aspects that enable this prerogative and therefore, among other things, the appearance of the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms meant as a ‘what can be done’ or, more simply, the ‘right to …’. Such protection will, naturally, be found in collectivist countries and cultures but will probably be decoded through different cognitive and experiential tools (for example, by means of a particular emphasis on human rights framed as ‘what cannot be done’ or even on the ‘duty of …’). The conditions lay down above highlight the need, at the international level, to develop intercultural competences to ensure that dialogue among the various global players goes well and leads to positive results for all.

By expanding his field, a conscious intercultural diplomacy actor will unquestionably be called upon to make important evaluations of his transversal and relational skills to fit them appropriately in the contexts that he works in. Likewise, it will have to observe the reality that in which he is plunged’ in a ‘participating’ manner, in order to be able to modulate his own  operational and occupational characteristics having in mind the entire scenario in which he moves, avoid premature judgements on pre-existent limitations in which to promote and assert his positions.

The individual/collective opposition can, unsurprisingly and easily extend to a whole range of connectable conditions, starting with the concept of family, whether it is considered as a mere parental bond, or as a wider bond linked to the concept of affinity. In this essay, the study of such ramifications would lead us too far; nevertheless, the intercultural reader will not disregard the importance of continuing the analysis that from the aforementioned dichotomy may arise, with the aim of designing with increasing precision (and therefore include) the diversity of the socio-cultural scenario in which we may be operating one day.

In our view, another cultural and value dimension that is necessarily relevant in the field of intercultural diplomacy is related to the predominant ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ characteristic of a given human society (Hofstede 1991).

It shall be clear that we do not only intend to discern gender differences here. The discourse is broader and, once more avoiding generalisation, we want to outline the characteristics inherent to a cultural group that on one hand, may more or less be linked to the feminine function par excellence, that of ‘ inclusiveness ‘ (since women usually make a bigger use of the instrument of emotional intelligence both in personal and professional relationships) or, on the other, may appear to be a classical masculine function as it is the case of ‘confrontation’, being men more rigid and rather scarcely in terms of the use of the affective-emotional instrument (for an in-depth analysys, see Nedelmann 1997).

In other words, a ‘feminine’ culture will not only present more balanced gender roles (both in personal and professional terms) in society, but will be characterised by the proliferation of  more activities that, at 360 degrees, tend to more consciously and effectively include the individual in society, offering him better conditions to be part of the whole. This implies more creativity, a higher level of innovation, and the search for alternative solutions to major social issues, as well as wider use of the dialogic function in human relations and conflict composition.

The intercultural diplomat, who is an outstanding actor in the life of international relations, does not escape this differentiation. On the basis of these socio-environmental peculiarities of the contexts in which he operates, he will react accordingly, adapting, expanding, and delimiting his own margin of action and (re) modulating the goals set by virtue of higher/ lower achievability.

A last value and cultural parameter that we would like to observe for our intercultural diplomacy analysis is linked to the concept of gratification of needs.

We are certainly not going into psycho-social arguments (for further details see, Maslow 1954); We want to relate to the concept of ‘need’ in the world of international relations, instead, and the possibility that the comparison between cultures (and hence their respective diversity) focus on the different levels of perception about the achievement of objectives for which certain efforts were conducted. In other words, we speak of a comparison between cultures that express more or less rigidity in the interpretation of the equation ‘effort = achievement’. This is also to be considered in relation to the higher/lower amount of estimated time to achieve this achievement (mid/short-term expectations versus long-term expectations).

Such differentiation gains particular importance if viewed from an intercultural viewpoint.

A culture prone to expressing expectations of achieving short / medium term results is a culture most likely more oriented to outline the future than to look to the past and traditions and whose governmental structures will probably be more reluctant to include “too much past” into political decisions. Contrarily, a cultural group that is characterised by patience, perhaps waiting for a certain degree of fatality over the achievement of goals (and that has plentiful commitment and resources to achieve those), can express government policies and decision-making guidelines that will include ‘a lot of past’ to better define the next steps.

A classic example of what has just been said can be found in the economic and financial sphere, and in particular in the lower or higher valorisation of ‘savings’. A culture characterised by a propensity for long-term expectations (in relation to the achievement of a desired outcome) will, with a certain degree of probability, tend to attach more importance to saving, and thus to the creation of increasing security levels to respond to unforeseen future socio-economic discomfort (Hofstede 2004).

5. Intercultural Diplomacy: Conclusions. – Roest Crollius’s essay show a strong intuition, observing that «the juridical role of diplomacy nowadays is of a new nature, which is precisely the transition of international law to a global law, and from international legal institutions to global institutions. And because such a development is fruitful, the variety of legal traditions from different cultures needs to be taken into account. To combine legal creativity with the knowledge of cultures and intercultural dialogue shows the gigantic role of diplomacy in our days «(2004).

Diplomacy faces fundamentalisms, nationalisms, and specialisms, therefore, demanding the strong need for an approach that somehow includes more in-depth awareness of the diversity of that various actors in the international context.

Intercultural diplomacy means welcoming diversity in international contexts, including in its most dynamic and creative aspects, and acting in search of new solutions and new ways in all aspects of international relations.

To move within a multicultural context, so that the diversity of individual actors can be transformed into wealth through conscious trans-narrative practices, it is to avoid the dribbles of unproductive cultural comparisons, requiring the training of intercultural agents that somehow stimulate this process, it is to remove the risks of the culture’s objectification and its reduction to ‘thing’ or even worse to ‘fetishism’ (Ricca 2008, 2013, 2014).

We believe that diplomacy is in possession of plenty of these professional high level agents. We stress that a diplomacy that is dynamically and proactively tuned to the future of relations, within the international community, can solely be an intercultural diplomacy.

It is imperative to jeopardise the risk that all components of the life of international relations – starting with politics an going through finance and trade, to ensure a rich, sustainable and equanimous development of the planet – are analysed only for what they seem to represent on the surface . In other words, at the international level, it is imperative to go beyond the individual agents’ hasty search for a socio-cultural-identity and security that is utopian and unrealistic in the light of today’s changing scenarios.

Cultural diversity is no longer an obstacle or a bogeyman: it is a challenge, an opportunity for the international community to guarantee future generations of prosperity and development. Today, ethnocentrism, which for a long time entailed the way of exercising one’s presence in the international arena, is called to abandon the scene, in order to give room to a more global ,attentive and inclusive vision given the ongoing and pluralistic changes emerging from diversity. As effectively stated «it is no longer tolerant (…), tolerance has already caused several damages. What is needed is the knowledge and consequent respect for each other: (…) more empathy towards cultural diversity if we want to transform the ‘multiculturality’ that we know easily leads to the ghetto (…) in ‘interculturality’ (… ) [as an extraordinary example of historical volunteering] (…) .»(Mazzei 2014)

We previously coined the definition of diplomat as a ‘human bridge builder’ (Lobasso 2010). And today, more than ever, we can confirm that the intuition that lead us to develop that definition was right.

Intercultural diplomacy has, in our view, a fundamental task: to consciously observe the protagonists of the international contexts in their interaction, in their production of diversity and multiple content, and to be a carrier of creative synthesis of such interpenetrations, seeking new proposals in all the spheres of international relations.

Intercultural diplomacy means, in other words, to accommodate the diversity of global scenarios, to intercept it in its more dynamic and creative aspects and to act in search of new ways beyond any (limited) frontier.

Curiosity, inclusiveness, intentionality, awareness, knowledge, expertise, experience: all the essential elements to make the journey of diplomacy ‘interculturally indispensable’.

To use the arguments of Carol Dweck (2006, 2012) and the ‘Stanford School’, it is all about pushing the fixed mindset of diplomacy – the set of talents, ways of being, thinking and acting that determine the actors’ behaviour on the global scenario – to become familiar with the concept of growth mindset, that is to say infinite opportunities to be sought in the challenges of diversity and cultural diversity, as «the more we learn, the more our brain grows and more easily it learns.»



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