Demonstration of sincerity matters in public diplomacy

image When I come across a statement about “winning the hearts and minds” of this or that group, I usually roll my eyes because the phrase is usually being tossed out without regard to underlying requirements or even reality. This “hearts” thing of likability and emotions plays closer to propaganda, which usually targets easily manipulated emotions instead of logic, than most realize.

I get a similar involuntary eye spasm when I hear the statement “sincerity is what matters most in public diplomacy.” While deep down it is true, I find the majority use of “sincerity” to be superficial and reminiscent of the Kool-Aid that says “turn up the volume, our public diplomacy isn’t working because they can’t hear us” and “why don’t they like us?”

Simply put, a lie can be sincere. There is more to it than “come on, I really mean it!”

The real foundation of public diplomacy is the tight coupling of words with deeds into smart, informed, contextual, and agile policies. This is more than synchronizing, it is the mutual support of words and deeds in a way that knowingly, not accidently, shape perceptions and ultimately actions of others. Sincerity is thus demonstrated not expressed.

Infrequently ascribed to public diplomacy is the other side of the coin: the adversary. The purpose of public diplomacy is to highlight the incongruities in the adversary’s words and deeds.

8 thoughts on “Demonstration of sincerity matters in public diplomacy

  1. Hi Matt,As always a pleasure to read your blog.
    Regarding you eye spasm caused by the statement that “sincerity is what matters most in public diplomacy,” perhaps this aphorism by de La Rochefoucauld could be an at least temporary cure for what ails you: “Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.”
    Re your “[t]he purpose of public diplomacy is to highlight the incongruities in the adversary’s words and deeds,” I would only comment that it is somewhat too narrowly focused and a minor element (in my view as a former PD practitioner) in what I consider the best and most important of public diplomacy, which is truthfully to tell the world about America and expand international understanding.
    May I refer to the article you were kind enough to mention in your blog, “Public Diplomacy and Propaganda: Their Differences”
    Thank you for all you are doing to highlight the importance of public diplomacy in international relations.
    Best wishes, John

  2. Solid points, Matt. For an expanded discussion on the importance of trust and credibility, I invite the gang here to give some thought to Appendix P of the recently updated Commander’s Handbook for Strategic Communication (version 3) listed as the fourth item under the “Reference Materials” heading at this link:
    Feedback/pushback is welcome.
    — Cliff

  3. Agree 100%. Words and deeds should match and reinforce each other.Unfortunately America has a rather large gap here, as regularly chronicled by Glen Greenwald at
    He recently pointed out the hypocrisy inherent in the Department Of State establishing a war crimes prosecution unit, while the current Administration tells us that we must ignore the possibility of our own misdeeds.

  4. Matt & Commentators,Am I correct in believing that there is a moral dimension to your discussion? Namely the virtue of honesty? If that is the case then the distinction between public diplomacy and propaganda is essentially a term of art and not analytic. For I find it hard to distinguish between the two. More to the point, what of a state that engages in “public diplomacy” to convince the world of truths that state holds self-evident e.g. Islam is the path to salvation or the Jews are the vile cause of Europe’s and Germany’s miseries? Surely to presume that all who engage in propaganda are fully aware of their deceptions and are “propagating” what they know to be untrue is a rather dramatic claim.
    Diplomacy is the negotiation of power. That is what I learned in my political science and history and anthropology studies, and in my time as a maneuver commander in Iraq. Public diplomacy seems no different in intent, just in audience (the public at large vs. a singe actor). Shaping the minds of your audience to steer conditions in your preferred direction is, after all, the raison d’etre of all diplomacy. Propaganda then, is either a redundant term when you have diplomacy or it means something distinct. Or perhaps, and I think this is probably the crux of the matter, it simply has a bad connotation and needs to be done away with, for the sake of our public diplomacy.

  5. Hi Fushi,My favorite definition of PD comes from Prof. Manuel Castells: “Public diplomacy is the…projection in the international arena of the values and ideas of the public. The aim of the practice of public diplomacy is not to convince but to communicate, not to declare but to listen. Public diplomacy seeks to build a sphere in which diverse voices can be heard in spite of their various origins, distinct values and often contradictory interests.”
    I don’t think those are traits or values that can be ascribed to propaganda or traditional diplomacy.

  6. Fushi922 & Paul,Public diplomacy is an activity of engagement in the open. For it to be successful, the actions must include ideas and practices that resonate with the target audience. Fushi922, in your question about morality, you are describing “good” public diplomacy.
    With regard to propaganda, propaganda is whatever you want it to be. The common use in the US is propaganda is bad, but by definition it is (generally) simply the propagation of information to shape opinion. Propaganda had been used, without any negatives intended, to describe what we now call public diplomacy decades before the term ‘public diplomacy’ was coined.
    Paul, I addressed Professor Castells’s definition before, see this post: This definition is a process of successful public diplomacy, it is not public diplomacy.
    As I wrote before, “The aim of public diplomacy is most certainly to convince people of certain ideas and to undermine support of others, if passively at times, through the availability of news and information and through personal encounters.”
    How you convince people is a matter of practice, which is the essence of what Fushi922 is asking.

  7. Interesting critique indeed, but I still accept the more holistic definition. I admit I am a more new age PD guru.

  8. Hmmm….but PDPBR had a quote at the top from Kim Andrew Elliot forcing me to reevaluate my “peace, love and PD” notions: “The term ‘public diplomacy’ is now attributed to so many activities that is has lost useful meaning.”

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