U.S. diplomat speaking at a meeting.

What is Public Diplomacy? A Look at a Growing Field


People around the world and in our communities have opposing opinions, especially related to politics. Diplomacy provides a process for different parties of people to successfully communicate with each other and better understand differing points of view. The American Psychological Association (APA) states that negotiation and diplomacy are the foundations of international relations. Despite its vital importance in our lives, “What is public diplomacy?” is often asked of many people not understanding its true meaning.

While usually defined as negotiations between countries, diplomacy has a broader meaning that 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 any person intending to follow a career path that deals with discussions among multiple groups.

Why Public Diplomacy Is Needed Today

The annals of history show that public diplomacy consistently served a crucial role in good international and domestic statesmanship. A look at the world's political climate reveals that 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. As communication breakdowns can contribute to the collapse of a society, public diplomacy is critical to getting key individuals back to communicating with each without hostility and respectfully recognizing different perspectives.

Important Areas of Public Diplomacy

When investigating “What is public diplomacy?", one will discover a broad spectrum of careers in the field. Professionals can potentially apply public diplomacy 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 enables students to gain a strong background appropriate for a career in public diplomacy.

As the Public Diplomacy Association of America reports, public diplomacy differs from traditional diplomacy as it deals with governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and individuals. Outlined below are areas of study in the field of public diplomacy.

Cyber Diplomacy—Policy or Technical

Cyber diplomacy is the transformation of public diplomacy to the digital age. It touches on economics, law, international relations, and the debates relevant to the online space.

International Commerce

International commerce deals primarily with foreign entities such as governments, media companies, internet services, and nongovernmental organizations. By leveraging an in-depth knowledge of global business and cross-cultural management, professionals can successfully communicate across traditional cultural borders to build a rapport.

International Terrorism

Public diplomacy addresses international terrorism by comprehending the reasons for terrorism, understanding the history of terrorism around the world and how the world community is responding to this threat.

International Conflict Management

Conflict and war are the driving factors for much of the civil and cross-border unrest in the world. International conflict management looks through the lens of human rights when evaluating the need for military intervention to prevent or contain conflicts to avoid their spread to other parts of the globe.

Those who study public diplomacy gain a solid background on international and domestic negotiations. The Norwich University online Master of Arts in Diplomacy teaches core competencies such as management of global teams across borders, building cooperation among diverse parties and diffusing tension arising from ideological or historical conflicts. Additionally, the degree offers branching paths to allow students to follow their choice of career in the world of modern public diplomacy.

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:

Cultural Awareness

Knowing a country’s culture enables diplomats to connect with individuals. As some countries have distinct cultural differences between regions, learning about a regional culture is 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 intending 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. While conflict resolution may entail many steps over an extended timeline, one must have the patience and staying power to resolve a dispute 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 skills such as compassion and empathy are essential to connect with individuals of diverse backgrounds and experiences to form a common ground and understand their grievances. In most cases, interpreting the reasons for an escalating situation is the key to resolving the issue without loss of life. 

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 ambassador for the country.

The government is not the sole employer as far as public diplomacy jobs go. A host of NGOs and international agencies also require individuals skilled and trained in international relations to conduct business on their behalf. Besides, Public Relations firms that deal with international governments desire graduates in this field.

Private consultancy firms that operate internationally employee individuals who can leverage knowledge in international relations as part of their job responsibilities. Finally, international conflict resolution organizations are eager to employ those 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 the field of work prepared to deal with the demands of modern public diplomacy. Touching on topics ranging from communication in the online sphere to dealing with international terrorism, graduates of this program gain the tools and competencies necessary to successfully navigate the complex world of communication in public diplomacy.

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

Recommended Reading

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 (APA)
Norwich University, Master of Arts in Diplomacy
About U.S. Public Diplomacy, Public Diplomacy Association of America (PDAA)
What Can Public Diplomacy Achieve?, The Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael