Active listening: the secret ingredient to diplomacy
UN Today and H.E. Amb Obeidat of Jordan discuss diplomacy, life in Geneva, the SDGs, and Jordan’s national priorities
1 May 2023

What makes a good diplomat? What makes the duties of a diplomat so attractive? Ambassador Obeidat stresses the centrality of active listening, engagement, and admiration for cultural exchange.

Your Excellency, why did you choose to become a diplomat? Please tell us a little about that and your career in the Jordanian Foreign Service.

I grew up in a diplomatic family—my father before me was a diplomat, and this field of work was always attractive to me. I discovered throughout the years that there were many things that appealed to me in diplomacy. The first aspect is that it’s all about helping people. The second is the degree of international exchange. We celebrate humanity from very diverse standpoints, and we approach the same issues from slightly different angles, which I find to be very enriching.

I initially wanted to study international relations but fate led me to study law, making me a lawyer by training and a diplomat by profession. But I’m very happy where I find myself today. After many years of working in the foreign service, I had the pleasure of serving in various countries and getting to know different cultures, including New York, Cairo, Tel Aviv, Geneva, and Paris.

Diplomacy in one word?

Exposure. You’re not watching a documentary about a certain country or a certain issue—you’re living through it alongside the people. It’s easier to communicate and avoid conflict at all levels.

What are your impressions of life in Switzerland? Your preferred weekend activities in Geneva?

I have lived in Geneva before, so I know the city well. It’s a city that I love. It has a lot to offer as it’s small, clean, safe, and welcoming, with wonderful scenery. The number of international organizations and specialized agencies makes the work of international civil servants here extremely rich and attractive.

Switzerland is a beautiful and elegant country— it’s almost surreal. It’s also a very family-oriented place. If you have a family, and children who are at an age when they begin to become more independent, nothing beats being in Geneva. When it comes to weekend activities, I have many, like motorcycling or enjoying the lake and its surroundings, but my favorite activity is spending time with my children, aged 15 and 10, and my spouse.

Could you please share your views on the SDGs and on your engagement with UN entities in Geneva in the quest to achieve the SDGs in your country?

I don’t know if the SDGs are restricted to Geneva… they are much wider, and you can address them everywhere. The main area of focus for us in Jordan this year was food security, so directly related to the first two SDGs. We have spoken about food security both before and during COVID times, trying to ensure that production lines are not compromised. This directly relates to climate change, which deeply affects Jordan. We are one of the poorest countries in the world water-wise, and also one of the countries affected the most by desertification.

Education is vital. Approximately 60% of our population is below the age of 35 years. To combat unemployment, one needs to have a strong, educated population, and I believe that in Jordan we do. In fact, Jordan was founded on two strong pillars, and they both revolve around the human being, since humans are the greatest resource we have. These two pillars are: a good education and healthcare systems. We are strong believers in them and have strong plans in both areas.

Jordan has a very holistic engagement with the SDGs. We rely on a good, functioning multilateral system to preserve our interests and to make them function well worldwide. Besides that, we have strong bilateral relations, which work together in order to address the challenges that we face.

His Majesty King Abdullah II has recently expressed admiration for the role and achievements of Jordanian women, especially for their success as entrepreneurs. How does Jordan empower women?

Equity and equality have been enshrined in the Constitution of Jordan since 1952. Rights and duties are the same for all Jordanians, without distinction on the grounds of sex, religion, creed, or color.

Actions taken to empower women must also be accompanied by appropriate legislation, and in this regard, Jordan is doing extremely well. Not long ago, the quota for women in the electoral law was increased. The necessity to increase quota can mean two things—either women are not receiving enough support, or existing quotas maintain no more than the bare minimum required.

I can tell you very frankly that in Jordan, we have a workforce of women that we should be proud of. Both H.M. King Abdullah II and H.M. Queen Rania are working very hard in this regard. In fact, from the last batch of diplomats who were accepted, two-thirds were women. This is a very good indication of gender equality in our country.

What advice would you give to young professionals interested in pursuing a career in diplomacy?

If you want to be a good diplomat, you must become an active listener. We can talk, but that doesn’t mean we’re listening, or that we make sense. When you listen well, then you understand well, so you can apply well, allowing you to react accordingly. Diplomacy worldwide requires these things… whether you read a draft resolution or attend a debate or negotiation, you have to read, listen, understand, dissect, and apply… 

* Alex Mejia is Director of the Division for People and Social Inclusion at UNITAR; Daniel Nazarov is a Programme Coordinator at UNITAR.
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