Gomes de Matos
Applying the Pedagogy of Positiveness
the Pedagogy of Positiveness to Diplomatic Communication by Francisco Gomes de
Gomes de Matos, Francisco (2001). Applying the Pedagogy of Positiveness to
Diplomatic Communication. In Jovan Kurblija and Hannah Slavik (Eds.) Language
and Diplomacy. Msida, Malta: DiploProjects.
This text was first published by DiploFoundation in their book Language and
THE PEDAGOGY OF POSITIVENESS TO DIPLOMATIC COMMUNICATION
Francisco Gomes de Matos
Departamento de Letras
Universidade Federal de Pernambuco
Views of Communication
As one of the
key-concepts in human linguistic life, communication has prompted several
definitions for linguists, for example, that term can broadly refer to every
kind of mutual transmission of information using signs or symbols between living
beings (humans, animals), as well as between people and data-processing
machines. (Bussman, Hadumod Routledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics.
Londonand New York, Routledge, 1996, p.83).
In its narrowest sense, however, communication can be taken as meaning ‘The
transmission and reception of information between a signaler and a receiver’
(Crystal, David The Penguin Dictionary of Language. Second edition. London:
Penguin Books, 1999, p.62).
If we look at perceptions of communication by communication theorists, we can
come across characterizations such as these: ‘Communication is the generation
of meaning’ or that ‘communication is a ubiquitous and powerful source in
society’ (Bowers, John Waite and James J. Bradac, Contemporary Problems in
Human Communication Theory, in Carroll C. Arnold and John Waite Bowers, Handbook
of Rhetorical and Communication Theory. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1984, p.872,
If we leave the language and communication sciences and turn to international
relations, what interpretations of communication can we find? That it is a
process of negotiation ‘between states seeking to arrive at a mutually
acceptable outcome on some issue or issues of shared concern’ (Cohen, Raymond
Negotiating across Cultures. International communication in an interdependent
world. Washington, D.C. United States Institute of Peace Press, 2nd ed., 1997,
How about communication in diplomacy, or rather, among diplomats? Here is a
definition taken from a dictionary for diplomats: ‘Communication among
diplomats is a two-way street: one cannot expect to obtain much information
unless one is able and willing to convey information’. (Karl Gruber,1983,
quoted in Chas. Freeman, Jr., The Diplomat’s Dictionary. Revised edition,
1997, p. 49. Washington, D.C United States Institute of Peace Press).
What is shared in such definitions/characterizations? The shared nature of the
process: Communication is first and foremost an act of sharing.
How do we communicate orally?
By sharing the language used in a particular context at a specific time, by
interacting, by co-constructing a dialogue or a multilogue, by expressing our
attitudes, emotions, feelings in a friendly or in an unfriendly manner, by
relying on many nonverbal signals (body language, facial expressions), by
sometimes emphasizing what is said -- content -- and sometimes emphasizing how
it is said -- form, or we can communicate, more typically by integrating forms
and meanings in contexts of use which can create different effects on our
interlocutors. We can communicate by being explicit or by preferring implicit
speech. We can communicate by hedging, by avoiding coming straight to the point,
through purposely vague language. We can communicate by using not only words but
terms (typical of different professional fields), as for instance in
International Relations, lexical items used for talking about
anti-globalization: inhuman labor conditions, risky technology, abject poverty
(cf. Varyrynen, Raimo, ‘Anti-globalization movements at the crossroads,’ in
Policy Brief. No.4, November 2000, p. 3. Universityof NotreDame: Joan B. Kroc
As humans, we can communicate by expressing both positive and negative (or
‘questionable’) perceptions, by delivering both good and bad news, or by
leaving out the positive side. We can communicate in socially responsible or
irresponsible ways; in other ways, to bring out communicative harmony or
disharmony. These reflections would lead us to questions such as: How are
diplomats perceived? Why does there seem to be a practice of presenting
diplomacy/diplomats negatively in books of quotations, for example? What would
be the ratio of positive and negative perceptions of diplomats in such books, if
a world bibliographic survey were conducted? How about diplomatic communication?
How has it been described and why? What misperceptions are there concerning such
process? What positive features and questionable features are being associated
to the way diplomats communicate in speaking (face-to-face or on the telephone,
etc) and in writing?
In a recent Conference held in Maryland, U.S., in July last year,
U.S.negotiators were described as tending ‘to be explicit, legalistic, blunt,
and optimistic.’ (Peace Watch, United States Institute of Peace Press, October
2000, Vol.VI, No. 6, p.1). Note that one of the adjectives conveys a potential
negative or questionable meaning: ‘blunt’ (discourteous, abrupt, curt) What
is it that sometimes leads negotiators to communicate in such questionable ways?
What would seem to be missing in the linguistic/communicative preparation of
When I was asked to share a little of the philosophy underlying my Pedagogy of
Positiveness, it occurred to me that to make it transparent, I should state some
of its Principles. Here they are:
Applying the Pedagogy of Positiveness to diplomatic communication: A
1. Emphasize ‘what to say constructively. Avoid ‘what not to say’.
2. Implement diplomatic communication as a humanizing form of interaction.
Definitions of ‘diplomacy’ of the type Art + Science or Science + Art leave
out the humanizing responsibility of diplomats’ communication.
3. Communicate national and international values constructively. What
‘national’ values do diplomats communicate? How?
4. Learn to identify and to avoid potentially aggressive, insensitive,
offensive, destructive uses of languages. Do your best to offset dehumanizing
ways of communication, often the outcome of human communicative fallibility.
5. Think of the language you use as a peace-building, peace-making,
peace-promoting force. Do you challenge yourself to transform your communicative
competence into competence in communicative peace?
6. At all times, do your very best to view yourself positively, to view the
diplomatic profession positively, to view life positively and to communicate
such view as constructively as you can.
7. Learn to exercise your communicative rights and to fulfill your communicative
responsibilities in a sensibly balanced way. Remember that you have the right to
question and to criticize, but do so responsibly, in a human-dignifying manner.
8. Handle differences of opinion in a constructive way. Remember that
‘negative talk’ tends to predominate or often dominate in face-to-face
9. Treat others with respect by being as communicatively friendly as you can.
10. Choose your words on the basis of their Peace Power rather than on their
strategic value alone. Communicative both tactfully and tactically.
11. Try to see and describe both sides of an issue. Challenge yourself to make
balanced (rather than biased) statements. Don’t be a polemicist.
12. Avoid hiding behind pompous language to question someone.
13. In reading diplomatic texts, look for fair comments. Try to reconstruct
(infer) the method used by the authors. Learn to apply Discourse Analysis to
14. Avoid blurring the meanings of key words such as Politics. It is standard
polemical practice to blur the meanings of Politics, etc.
15. It is a truism to state that no communication is neutral, so commit yourself
to communicating as humanizingly as you can. Remember if language is
definitional of what is human, constructive language use is definitional of what
is humanizing in communication.
16. Communicatively, aim at linguistic probity and integrity.
17. Conflict can be managed to some extent, and so can language use, especially
if you adopt a constructive perspective, for expressing your attitudes, beliefs,
and emotions. What parts of a diplomat’s vocabulary (lexical repertoire) can
be systematized for constructive communicative purposes?
Educate yourself in identifying ‘positivizers’ in spoken and written texts
in your field and challenge yourself to make increasing use of such
constructive, human-dignifying adjectives, verbs, and nouns.
18. Learn to monitor more confrontational sentence types by replacing them with
listener/reader friendly sentences.
1. Considering the apparently widespread misperceptions of diplomats and
diplomacy in the media and in reference works (see especially Books of
Quotations), in the light of our Pedagogy of Positiveness, a plea is made for
(present/emerging/future) diplomats to launch an international movement which
would help build an accurate, fairer image of the work (being/to be) done by
those who commit themselves to helping bring about a truly interdependent world,
through the international discourse of diplomacy. Having come across small but
convincing evidence that a positive, public perception of diplomats and their
activity is urgently needed -- a plea is similarly made for organizations
engaged in the education of diplomats to join in such cooperative effort.
2. Also considering that one of the most salient positive senses of
"diplomatic" -- to the public at large -- is that of " being
tactful" or displaying a friendly attitude toward other human beings -- a
plea is similarly made for that "positively marked sense of the term"
to be capitalized on, through more research on the spoken/written vocabulary
used in diplomatic communication as well as on the teaching of a
constructive-human-dignifying use -- and monitoring -- of such lexicon to
emerging/ future diplomats so that they can be deeply aware of language using as
a great humanizing force in human interaction, especially in situations
involving peace negotiation, mediation, and other challenging processes
experienced by diplomats as true world citizens. One of the strategies suggested
for the semantic preparation of diplomats would be their sensitization to the
functions of "positivizers" in diplomatic discourse (verbs,
adjectives, and nouns which reflect/enhance inherently constructive actions and
attributes or qualities in human beings). Another strategy would be that of
learning how to read diplomatic texts constructively, by identifying "positivizers"
in such texts: frequency of occurrence, potential impact, ratio of "positivizers"
and "negativizers", confrontational types of sentence structures,
types of hedging and vague uses of language, among other features.
3. Considering the pioneering nature of this Conference and the growing interest
of linguists and other language-related interdisciplinarians in Political
Discourse in general and the emerging interest of language-centred researchers
on Diplomatic Discourse, a recommendation is made that that Conference be
sustained and broadened -- through workshops, intensive Seminars, and other
pre-Conference events which can enable participants to benefit from the
expertise of specialists in the several language-focused domains of theoretical
and practical relevance to the challenges of today’s diplomacy.
4. Considering that Diplomacy has its own distinctive repertoire of terms -- cf.
Chas. W.Freeman Jr’s The Diplomat’s Dictionary. Washington, D.C.: United
States Institute of Peace Press, 1997. 2nd ed. -- and that a profession’s
lexicon should realistically reflect collective decisions and choices -- another
plea is made for a Project centered on a Dictionary of Diplomacy (as
multilingual as possible) to be prioritized on the Agenda of Relevant Reference
Works for the Preparation of Diplomats. What I have in mind is a collectively
shared, international project which could very well be sponsored by this
Conference’s host institution: the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic
5. Last but not least, a final plea is made for the study of Human Linguistic
Rights to become a required subject in the education of diplomats. As promoters
of "communicative peace" among persons, groups, and nations, diplomats
need to become knowledgeable in that new category of human rights. A visit to
the site of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights ( www.linguistic-declaration.org
give an idea of the breadth and depth of the insights which can inspire needed
research on the communicative rights and responsibilities of diplomats. In
short, it is my conviction that a Pedagogy of Positiveness can contribute to the
education of diplomats, especially in close interaction with International
Relations, Linguistics, Communication Science, Peace Psychology, Peace
Linguistics, and Human Linguistic Rights, to name but a few of the contributory
We have made some progress since the mid-seventies, when researchers’
attention was focused on DoubleSpeak (Cf. Daniel Dieterich, Editor, Teaching
about DoubleSpeak. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English,
1976. See especially the chapter on Guidelines for the Analysis of
Responsibility in Governmental Communication, by Dennis Gouran, pp.20-32) to the
present-day investigation of DiploDiscourse (for an example, see Ray T. Donahue
and Michael H. Prosser, Diplomatic Discourse: International conflict at the
United Nations -- Addresses and Analysis. Greenwich, Connecticut and London:
Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1997) but much more should be accomplished if we
are to start transforming Diplomatic Communication into dignified and dignifying
discourse, thus contributing to harmonizing and humanizing an important domain
within Political Discourse. For a suggested strategy on how to read a political
text positively, see my article Harmonizing and humanizing Political Discourse:
the contribution of peace linguistics, in Peace and Conflict. Journal of Peace
Psychology. Vo. 6, No. 4, 2000, pp. 339-344. In short, if I may adapt my
characterization of "communicating well" therein to the diplomatic
context, I would say that "communicating well diplomatically means
communicating for the well being of diplomatic interlocutors and, more broadly,
for the well-being of humankind".
Number 927, Sunday,
February 13, 2005