top of page

The Diplomat, Netflix 2023 Series, Is Replete with Negotiation Lessons

Overview of the Netflix series The Diplomat (2023)

The brilliance of diplomacy is humility. An effective diplomat does not need to the the star. They throw out their excellent ideas, placing it in the mix and allowing others to take credit and thereby, the buy-in.

The U.S. President (Rayburn) is an older man with a female Vice President. Soon a scandal involving the VP’s husband will emerge causing her to resign. The scandal involves a large mishandled government grant. The President and his entourage are searching for a replacement. Career diplomat Kate Wyler (played by Keri Russell) is on the short list.

Her husband Hal (played by Rufus Sewell) was also an ambassador. He has the ear of the President. By many he is viewed as a clever, get-things-done diplomat. To some, he's a hero. To others, including the Secretary of State (Miguel Ganon), he is tantamount to a traitor. Hal has even called the secretary “a war criminal.”

Based on her vast experience in the Mideast, including Lebanon, Kate is viewed as a no-nonsense, critical-thinking diplomat. She is expecting to be the Ambassador to Afghanistan and ready to go to Kabul. Surprisingly, the President orders her to become, at least temporarily, the United Kingdom's ambassador to test her under pressure. She distinguishes herself as a career diplomat, not a politician. (Many Ambassadors are awarded this position because of their financial contributions.)

Kate is immediately confronted with a UK crisis when someone bombs their aircraft ship near Iran resulting in 40+ deaths. The investigation begins raising a multiplicity of negotiation issues:

Distinguishing between and discerning facts versus perspectives.

This is an important multi-step investigative approach. For example, in their gathering of sensitive information, they are sent a video of a small Iranian boat in the vicinity. This is the type of boat that could carry the type of explosives used in the UK ship attack. Kate is quick to state that what they know is that this type of boat is manufactured in Iran. That is all that they know.

Using critical thinking + deductive thinking.

Several of the investigators state that the boat discovery means the Iranians did it. This may be a sign of inductive thinking; that is, they start off believing the Iranians did it and then search for evidence proving such. This situation calls for deductive thinking; that is, gather the information and then deduce the culprit.

In one scene, the Iranian diplomat dies in the Office of the UK Minister of Justice. Some Iranians immediately jump to the conclusion that he has been poisoned. Kate warns that the facts need to be gathered. When they are, they learn he's died of a heart attack.

Knowing the players: "Does He Like Toast?"

Kate is about to meet with the new Russian ambassador (Olaf Balakin). She instructs her staff to discover all information about this person down to his eating preferences. This value of knowing all the information possible about the players goes beyond food preferences. In this series, the UK Prime Minister (Nicole Trowbridge) knows that if Russia is the attacker, they only pay attention to “like” responses. Possibly, they have attacked with a bomb and responding with diplomacy or with financial sanctions will not get their attention. The PM wants to bomb something which is initially understandable.

Be goal oriented AND look at the big picture.

On the surface, the goal is to investigate and then respond to the attack. At the same time, one must pay attention to the big picture that includes, Kate is being tested to discern if she is Vice President ”material.”

The UK Prime Minister is concerned about his re-election and legacy. The PM is very concerned about his popularity and power. The more likely Scotland is to vote for independence and the next thing you know, this PM will be known for losing UK.

Rest of the story (ROTS).

Some may remember radio star Paul Harvey and his show, The Rest of the Story. He would tell a story that is well known; then, a commercial; and finally, he would reveal a vital part of the story that most people did not know.

First meeting between Ambassador Kate and the new Russian Ambassador.

The first meeting is one on one and closed door, although staff could hear through the door. The Russian Ambassador declares the US to be arrogant and delivers a 20-minute loud diatribe. But he hands her a secret note to exit the back door and meet with another Russian who gives her vital information demonstrating that they were not the culprit in this particular attack.

It is noteworthy that the US President considers Secretary of State Ganon to be his enemy, yet he wanted to keep him close. Ganon has Presidential ambitions. UK ambassador is the most coveted ambassadorship.

In the series, Kate was appointed to be UK Ambassador. What is the rest of the story? U.S Ambassador to the United Kingdom is the most coveted ambassadorship. Since 1955, the Ambassador lives at the 12-acre Winfield House on Regent’s Park, second only to the Queen’s Buckingum Palace. Wealthy Barbara Woolworth Hutton had her estate built in 1936 and donated it to the US post-World War II.

Under the Biden Administration, it was said the CEO of Disney Bob Iger (worth $350 million) wanted this position. Instead, Biden chose wealth Jane Hartley (possibly worth $20M), married to investment partner and CEO of Evercore, Ralph Schlosstein (net worth of $170M).

As reported by The Guardian:

Jane Hartley, a businesswoman and Democratic party fundraiser, has been nominated as the next US ambassador to Britain, continuing a practice by both parties in recent decades of appointing wealthy donors to the prestigious job.

Hartley, who served as ambassador to Paris in the Obama administration, is a business executive, and is married to an investment banker, with a record of large-scale fundraising for Democratic candidates.

She has been a campaign “bundler," meaning she has solicited and coordinated over $100,000 in contributions to the party from groups of donors. During the presidential campaign, Joe Biden had said he would break from the practice of handing out ambassadorships as rewards for the wealthy faithful.

“I’m going to appoint the best people possible,” he promised. “Nobody, in fact, will be appointed by me based on anything they contributed.”

The rest of the story is that Kate is being groomed to be the Vice President. This position is a test of her endurance.

Creativity and Options

An effective negotiator needs to be creative. Ambassador Kate urged brainstorming and creativity during any problem-solving meeting. She wants to know all of the options so they can identify the better ones and the bad ones.


In episode eight, former Ambassador Hal Wyler delivers a dramatic speech:

Diplomacy does not work until it does. Communication is the key. You talk with your friend, your enemies. You get many No’s until you move them to a Yes. Some people believe the old trope that talking with your enemies legitimizes them. No. Talk.

In the end, they seemingly have identified the culprit, a private Russian operative. The question is: Who paid him? Maybe the Prime Minister?


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu.

Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education

The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray

5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Getting Your Way Every Day.


bottom of page