The Ambassador’s Brief
12 July, 2019
The Art of Diplomacy
By Ambassador Bruce Heyman
Between 2014 and 2017, I served as the US Ambassador to Canada. I came with my partner, Vicki, a “twofer” as Vice President Joe Biden called us. For three years we worked side by side as America’s political and cultural envoys.
Our new book The Art of Diplomacy consists of alternating chapters from each of us. It details the time we served, and lessons we learned. Those lessons include:
1. A ‘dual Ambassador’ model works
We took a parallel approach. I took the one official role and worked within the formal diplomatic structure. Vicki worked outside that structure, strategically building communities that were energised by our priorities – using art and culture as a foundation for bringing people together.
Our voices and approaches were aligned, but we had different roles. I spoke in the voice of the U.S. administration. Vicki spoke on what she called “borderless issues”: democracy, social justice, human rights, environment and inclusion.
Together, we were able to engage with a broader range of issues and build deeper and more influential networks than either one of us could have done alone.
2. Diplomacy is an art
Diplomacy can and does work, but it takes patient communication. It takes clear-eyed assessment of both what’s being asked and what it is you are able to offer.
We found critical enablers of that communication to be:
Listening at a grassroots level: Our first trip around Canada took us to seven provinces and fifteen cities in twenty-one days. Out of that we learned that the efficient functioning of the US-Canadian border is a huge priority for Canadians. We made it one of ours.
Leveraging art and culture to create community: For example, we used the “Art in Embassies” program to bring leaders from the arts and business communities into functions at our embassy. This became a starting point for organising them into communities centred on shared priorities.
Working as an integrated team: We found many of the State Department’s practices to be unnecessarily siloed. Breaking down those silos and getting all the right people in one room, focused on a shared set of priorities, was critical. It was especially helpful for managing the transition to the Trudeau government.
Fostering an open and non-hierarchical working environment: Open doors lead to open dialogue and communication. We sent a clear message to the embassy staff: our doors are open, so come on in.
3. The US and Canada are family, no matter what
Canada is a centre-left country, and the United States is a centre-right country, but what’s most important about that is that we’re both centre. There will always be common ground and shared interests.
But much of President Trump’s behaviour concerns us. He has:
treated Canada and other key allies in transactional terms; and
diminished the role for ambassadors and traditional diplomacy.
Our service taught us that relationships with our allies are precious and require patient diplomacy to sustain them.
It would behove him, and all of us, to make a point without making an enemy, to break bread rather than agreements, to open doors rather than build walls, to celebrate differences rather than suppress them, and to protect our resources – and each other.
Bruce Heyman was the US Ambassador to Canada from 2014 to 2017. He served with his partner Vicki Heyman. Their bestselling memoir The Art of Diplomacy was published on April 30, 2019 by Simon and Schuster.