The Power of Diplomacy with Ambassador Capricia Marshall

On June 16, 2020Meridian hosted Ambassador Capricia Marshall, former Chief of Protocol of the United States and White House Social SecretaryAs a leading voice on international affairs and diplomatic engagements, Ambassador Marshall discussed the importance of protocol in times of crisis, as well as ways in which protocol will need to adapt to a virtual world. Moderated by award-winning journalist and best-selling author Claire Shipman, the conversation also highlighted lessons outlined in Ambassador Marshall’s new book, “Protocol: The Power of Diplomacy and How to Make it Work for You.  

Below are the key takeaways from the conversation:   

1. WHAT’S YOUR CULTURAL IQ? Ambassador Marshall credited her career successes and distinguished posts of Chief of Protocol of the United States and White House Social Secretary to her multicultural upbringing as the daughter of immigrants. “My father is from the former Yugoslavia and my mother hailed from Mexico and they came together to create what we call the American dream,” Ambassador Marshall detailed. This deeply rooted appreciation for all cultures developed into her determined efforts to understand the histories, norms and traditions behind the nations and heads of state she hosted on Pennsylvania Ave. The ability to understand culture and people allowed for success on such an international stage, which is a lesson that translates to all aspects of diplomacy.   

2. FOOD MATTERS. “Time and again, when we use food as a soft power tool, we can change people’s opinions, we can bring people in and have true engagement with them that really affects the outcomes that we are seeking,” explained Ambassador Marshall, who created the State Department’s culinary diplomacy initiative. A shared meal is an effective form of soft power, as it brings leaders together in a natural, comfortable way. Ambassador Marshall discussed the importance of selecting the right food to be served during diplomatic engagements, because messages about one’s own nation and their beliefs and culture can be richly conveyed through their culinary offerings. 

3.GIFTS THAT KEEP ON GIVING.While food can be a mechanism to convey messages about one’s own culture, gifts are a tangible way to express understanding and appreciation for another. Ambassador Marshall detailed an experience in the United Kingdom, presenting Her Majesty the Queen with gifts on behalf of President Obama, and how much preparation went into studying the Queen’s preferences. Gifts are a symbol of collaboration and shared respect for a nation, so selecting the right gift can be paramount to bilateral agreements. 

4. BYOM: BRING YOUR OWN MASK. Protocol is the framework that provides tips for navigating the current environment and during times of crisis. Ambassador Marshall said in jest that invitations in the modern day might read, “BYOM: Bring Your Own Mask." Although meetings are now taking place virtually, Ambassador Marshall believes that protocol is more imperative than ever, serving as a guide to professionalism in a virtual world. We also will need to ensure that meetings are respectful and welcoming, by seating individuals further apart and providing the necessary materials, such as hand sanitizer, to keep everyone safe.

5. AUTHENTICITY IS THE ANSWER.“When you present your authentic self, people can make a connection with you, and that builds trust.” Ambassador Marshall demonstrates how effective diplomacy is simple when you abide by one rule: be yourself. Human connection is at the core of successful statesmanship and presenting one’s genuine personality can go a long way to foster confidence in one another during a diplomatic engagement and beyond.  

Project summary