What it is: One of the ways in which states try to settle their differences without going to war. Diplomats from disputing countries meet to negotiate a deal that their sides can accept without losing face.

What it means: Diplomats are resourceful and intelligent people who are skilled talkers and manipulators. They use tact and even cunning to present their side’s views without confrontation. Perhaps similar techniques are used by most of us at some time or other, trying to settle arguments calmly at home or at work. So it may seem odd, or cynical, that diplomats are trained professionals. They are paid to put their employer’s point of view and get the best deal possible – regardless of their own private views. What matters is their employer’s success. In fact diplomats have often been successful in preventing war, even if only for the time being. Even the existence of diplomatic negotiations can help to stave off conflict. Professional diplomacy is a kind of arbitration procedure which all the sides involved accept as part of the business of avoiding war – and as a way of getting what they want, if possible.

Think about it: Most people know that being ‘diplomatic’ and tactful can work well in getting what they want - or think is right - without relationships breaking down in anger, though not everyone may have the necessary patience or understanding of other points of view. This kind of personal diplomacy, defusing argument and reaching a solution everyone can accept with good grace, oils the wheels of human society. It is not the same as being ‘manipulative’. Manipulative people exploit people for one reason: selfishness. Might diplomacy at national and international levels run the risk of being purely manipulative, giving social diplomacy a bad name? How important is it to see someone else’s point of view? How important is it to be sure of one’s own point of view as well?