A public diplomacy professional speaks into a microphone at a meeting.

What is Public Diplomacy? A Look at a Growing Field


People around the world, in different countries, cities, and communities have opposing opinions, especially related to politics. Diplomacy provides a process for different parties to successfully communicate with each other and better understand differing points of view. The American Psychological Association (APA) states negotiation and diplomacy are the foundations of international relations. Despite its vital importance in our lives, many people ask: “What is public diplomacy?”

While usually defined as negotiations between countries, diplomacy has a broader meaning. It includes all discussions conducted with sensitivity and without causing hostility. In this sense, public diplomacy is useful in handling international conflicts, community disputes, as well as interpersonal interactions. Having skills in public diplomacy is a necessity for anyone who intends to follow a career path that deals with discussions among multiple groups.

Why Public Diplomacy Is Needed Today

The annals of history show public diplomacy has consistently served a crucial role in framing sound international and domestic statesmanship. A look at the world's political climate reveals diplomacy is necessary in many areas of the world to enable peaceful discussions among varying political parties and social groups. In the United States today, public diplomacy is needed more than ever, due to the continued polarization of different interest groups and political parties.

The lack of constructive communication between parties can lead to a society that ceases to effectively function in key areas. Public diplomacy is critical to bringing key stakeholders to the bargaining table, enabling them to communicate without hostility and respectfully recognize each other’s different perspectives.

Careers in Public Diplomacy

In the process of answering the question “What is public diplomacy?" a broad spectrum of careers will be discovered. Public diplomacy can be applied to many roles, from navigating complex management systems to international negotiations among countries. Courses offered through Norwich University's online Master of Arts in Diplomacy enable students to gain a strong background appropriate for a career in public diplomacy.

Some of the careers that can be pursued after attaining an advanced degree in diplomacy include the following.

Government Affairs Director

Government affairs directors act as organizational representatives who work with government agencies to generate positive and beneficial legislation-driven regulatory outcomes. They also analyze how regulatory changes may impact businesses, and devise strategies that enable organizations to effectively manage changes in legislation. According to the compensation website PayScale, government affairs directors earn a median annual salary of around $96,800.

Intelligence Officer

Intelligence officers analyze, categorize, and organize large volumes and types of intelligence data to yield key information about the activities of specific foreign and domestic groups. They also work with government agencies to devise and develop strategies to mitigate terrorist threats, foreign invasions, or other potential insurgencies. The median annual salary of intelligence officers is around $88,800, according to PayScale.

News Director

While not strictly categorized as a public diplomacy position, news directors do play a role in shaping public opinion. News directors manage a news station’s content delivery, ensuring each broadcast is relevant and compliant with FCC regulations and privacy laws. They’re also responsible for meeting tight deadlines and disseminating key information in the event of breaking stories. According to PayScale, the median annual salary for news directors was around $53,800 as of October 2020.

What Are the Key Skills Needed for a Public Diplomacy Career?

Pursuing a career in public diplomacy requires training in a variety of competencies. At its core, public diplomacy combines human communication with understanding to de-escalate volatile situations. Among the skills that candidates should demonstrate include those listed here.

Cultural Awareness

Understanding and appreciating a country’s culture enables diplomats to connect with individuals. As some countries have distinct cultural differences between regions, learning about regional culture is also essential for successful communication.

Tactful Interaction

Tensions may be higher in some areas of the world and among different parties. Because of the unpredictability of emerging situations, candidates should possess the ability to display a level of tact to keep a situation from escalating out of control. Successful negotiations only happen after defusing tension. To this end, individuals who seek to work in public diplomacy should be well trained to interact tactfully in sensitive situations.

Conflict Resolution

Resolving conflict is the main objective of public diplomats. As conflict resolution may entail many steps over an extended timeline, it is important to demonstrate patience and staying power to resolve disputes without violence or loss of life.

Empathy and Compassion

Aside from the practical skills of negotiation, a public diplomat should possess a strong measure of humanity. Personal “soft” skills such as compassion and empathy are essential. These play a central role in connecting to individuals of diverse backgrounds and experiences to form common ground and understand their grievances. In most cases, interpreting the reasons for an escalating situation is the key to resolving the issue.

Getting a Job as a Public Diplomat

Graduates can find jobs in public diplomacy in both public and private agencies. The U.S. State Department trains individuals in international relations and, eventually, those employees may rise to the position of a foreign ambassador.

The government is far from the sole employer of public diplomacy jobs, however. A host of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and international agencies also require individuals who are skilled and trained in international relations. Public relations firms that deal with international governments also desire graduates in the field.

Other employers include private consultancy firms that operate internationally. These organizations regularly employee individuals who can leverage knowledge of international relations as part of their job responsibilities. Finally, international conflict resolution organizations are eager to employ those who are seeking a career in public diplomacy.

Practical Diplomacy for a New Era

The Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael notes that, in the modern world, the focus of public diplomacy is not on what it can do for society in theory, but what it achieves through practical applications to everyday situations. Public diplomacy is urgently needed today to prevent further conflict and potential loss of life in the world.

Norwich University's online Master of Arts in Diplomacy offers practical methodologies for graduates to enter and excel in the field of modern public diplomacy. Gaining knowledge of topics ranging from communication in the online sphere to dealing with international terrorism, graduates can gain the tools and competencies to successfully navigate the complex world of communication in public diplomacy.

Additionally, the program offers concentrations in International Commerce, International Terrorism, International Conflict Management, and Cyber Diplomacy.

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has maintained a leadership position in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, the university delivers relevant and applicable curricula that enable students to make a positive impact at work, in communities, and throughout the world.


Recommended Readings

What Is a Diplomat?
Diplomacy and Statecraft: Recognizing the Essential Differences
Effective Communication in International Diplomacy


Diplomacy Matters: Psychological Science and the Art of Negotiation, American Psychological Association
People, Values and U.S. International Leadership, Public Diplomacy Council
What Can Public Diplomacy Achieve?, The Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael
A Fresh Look at Public Diplomacy, Public Diplomacy Council
Average Government Affairs Director Salary, PayScale
Manager of Government Affairs, Society for Human Resource Management
Average Intelligence Officer Salary, PayScale
Intelligence Officers, Today’s Military
Average News Director Salary, PayScale
7 Skills News Directors Need Now, Radio Television Digital News Association

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