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Soft Power

The Power of Powerless Communication: How to Influence Others Softly

Jing Guo's picture

Two weeks ago, I attended a public dialogue at the International Monetary Fund between Managing Director Christine Lagarde and President Michelle Bachelet of Chile. I did not know much about Bachelet, except that she is the first female president of her country. While waiting, I was picturing her as a forceful, powerful iron lady. Instead, she appeared on stage as more of a mother-like figure, smiling and waving at the audience. 
 
During her talk, Bachelet was soft-spoken and humorous.  Once in a while, she would ask the audience members for help translating Spanish words into English. She kept us engaged and made us laugh. At one point, I could not help uttering, “I like her.” My neighbors nodded in agreement.
 
I wonder, what makes Bachelet so likeable? Her status? Her power? Neither. Instead of holding tight to her status, she was, in fact, letting go of her power by seeking help from the audience, and this is exactly why she was so warmly welcomed with such applause.
 
This might sound counterintuitive. Aren’t presence and charisma conveyed through strong, assertive, and dominant mannerisms and words? Often yes, but not always.
 

The (Soft) Power of Preaching What We Practice

Antonio Lambino's picture

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from an old friend in the diplomatic community.   He asked for my “thoughts on a public communications approach to countering terrorism and radicalism” since, he continued, this has been identified as a "gap in the global counter terrorism" arena.  My mind immediately went to an area of applied and scholarly interest that the international affairs community calls “public diplomacy.”  While conceptually contested, there seems to be broad enough agreement on the types of initiatives it encompasses, such as international broadcasting (BBC World Service, Radio Free Europe/Liberty, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, to name a few), scholarships (Fulbright, British Chevening, etc.), international study tours, and other types of academic, cultural, and political exchanges.

Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye argues in a Washington Post op-ed that at the heart of these initiatives is the desire of governments to enhance their “soft power”, defined as “the ability to use attraction and persuasion to get what you want without force or payment.”  Nye's definition suggests that the soft power that undergirds public diplomacy is not limited to enhancing security and defense; it is also relevant to international development.  This type of thinking is particularly critical in projects that seek to influence attitudes, opinions, and behaviors of multiple stakeholders in developing countries.  In this broader sense, cross-national influence is not limited to coercing people, nor is it about manipulating incentives.  It’s largely about appealing to hearts and minds through persuasion, which is only credible when what one says is consistent with what one does.

Soft Power: Talking to the People

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

East Germans gathering in front of the "Erfurter Hof" to see West German Chancellor Willy BrandtWatching current international events unfold, we increasingly see how foreign policy acknowledges the role of the public in politics. Since the 1990s scholars have used the term "soft power" to describe a certain kind of international diplomacy, and it seems that this kind of cooperative diplomacy gains more and more weight on the international stage. The term "soft power" was coined by Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye in his 1990 book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power and he developed his concept further in Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, published in 2004.