The Global Cable, Diplomacy, International Relations Protocol: The Power of Diplomacy and How to Make It Work for You

August 23, 2020
By Ambassador Capricia Marshall | Summer Reading List

This summer, we've launched a special edition of The Global Cable - our 'Summer Reading List.' Throughout the summer, we're releasing new conversations with authors, discussing their latest books and the inspiration behind them.

Our latest guest is Ambassador Capricia Marshall, who served as Chief of Protocol of the United States from 2009 to 2013, overseeing the details of democracy during countless state visits and global summits. Her new book is titled Protocol: The Power of Diplomacy and How to Make It Work For You.

In our conversation, Marshall explains what protocol is, and why people often best understand its importance only when it goes wrong; whether shifts in the international order are affecting protocol practices; and how COVID-19 has changed her rules for good protocol.

Listen on Apple Podcasts | Libsyn | Spotify | Stitcher

Music & Produced by Tre Hester.

Franklin Few

On every episode of The Global Cable, we ask our guests the 'Franklin Few' - an updated version of a questionnaire used by Penn founder Benjamin Franklin. Here are Ambassador Marshall's answers. 

Someone you'd like to meet: Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, abolitionists and political activists born into slavery. Harriet Tubman helped around 70 enslaved people to escape to freedom, served as an armed scout and spy for the North during the Civil War, and later campaigned for women's suffrage. Sojourner Truth escaped slavery, became a well-known advocate for women's suffrage, and fought for the rights of formerly enslaved people. 

A book, movie, or anything else you'd recommend to listenersSpillover: Animal Infections and the next Human Pandemic by David Quammen.

Someone who's recently done something that deserves praise or attention: Congressman John Lewis, statesman and legendary civil rights leader, who recently passed away.

Something Penn and Penn students can do to be of service to the world: Establishing and respecting safe guidelines for an eventual return to campus; and supporting children in the community attending virtual school with in-person tutoring.

Listen now


Capricia Marshall [00:00:09]  Protocol, I like to say, puts the wheels of diplomacy in action, revs the engine, it creates also this wonderful roadmap for our leaders to follow within all of their engagements, both big and small. It's those micro details, those nuances in their engagements that when gathered together can create a major, major impact.

John Gans [00:00:46] Welcome to The Global Cable, a podcast from Perry World House at University of Pennsylvania where we discuss the world's biggest issues with the people who work on them. I'm John Gans, the Director of Communications and Research here at Perry World House. With COVID-19 keeping us indoors and at home more than we might have expected this summer, we decided to release a special series of our podcast, a summer reading list. On each episode, we'll speak to an expert about their new book. They'll share what inspired them, what they learned during the writing process, and more. Our guest this week is Ambassador Capricia Marshall. She served as Chief of Protocol of the United States from 2009 to 2013, overseeing the details of diplomacy during countless state official and working visits and global songs. Marshall is the current president of Global Engagement Strategies and serves as Ambassador in Residence at the Atlantic Council in Washington. She's also a proud Penn parent. Her son is a rising junior. Marshall's new book, "Protocol: The Power of Diplomacy and How to Make It Work for You", was published this summer by HarperCollins. In our conversation, Marshall explains what protocol is and why people often best understand its importance when it goes wrong. Whether shifts in the international order are affecting protocol practices and how COVID-19 has changed her rules for good protocol. Capricia Marshall, welcome to The Global Cable.

John Gans [00:02:11] Capricia Marshall, welcome to The Global Cable. Thanks so much for being here.

Capricia Marshall [00:02:15] Thank you so very much for having me, John.

John Gans [00:02:18] It's very good to have you back. You visited Perry World House in person, and now you're joining us for a podcast. And you're a Penn parent. So we know you have a connection to Penn and we appreciate you joining us today for an amazing book called "Protocol." And "Protocol" is the title, but also the subject of the book. So I thought I would start with the basics and just ask, what's protocol?

Capricia Marshall [00:02:39] Oh, well, that is a good question I've often been asked while serving as Chief of Protocol, and certainly since I published this book. Protocol, I like to say, puts the wheels of diplomacy in action, revs the engine.

Capricia Marshall [00:02:58] It creates also this wonderful roadmap for our leaders to follow within all of their engagements, both big and small. It's those micro details, those nuances in their engagements that when gathered together can create a major, major impact in their diplomatic negotiations. Protocol is the foundation. It creates a theme framework for diplomacy. So before the President walks into a room, shakes a hand, picks up a pen the room is prepared. The opportunity is prepared. The communications that will occur are set forth. And we're establishing a mindset for diplomacy to be engaged.

John Gans [00:04:00] That's amazing. And what you do a really good job of is demonstrating that your job as the Chief of Protocol was to help make sure all of these things went right, to give an opportunity for an engagement, for a conversation to take flight. You also mention, and I think this is an amazing thing, which is the Chief of Protocol for the United States is always the first to extend a hand to visiting presidents, prime ministers, kings and queens as the official representative of the President to invited guests. So I think for a lot of our listeners and for a lot of our students at Penn, it's an amazing job. That's an amazing opportunity to have and your career is one of many that I think demonstrates that the American government is made up of people who come from everywhere. So I thought I would ask, how did you get your job? How did you, when you graduated from college, how did you work your way up to this amazing position and to this amazing opportunity to serve the country?

Capricia Marshall [00:05:03] Well, I sometimes I scratch my head and say, how do I do that? Because it was, as you put it, an amazing job and an amazing opportunity. One that I will cherish my entire life. I started off in politics supporting an unknown candidate by the name of Bill Clinton, who was a Governor in Arkansas. I believed in his candidacy and more so as a recent graduate from law school, I found his wife fascinating as one of the country's top lawyers. And I thought, wow, I'm going to go down to Little Rock, Arkansas and volunteer on this campaign. And he's probably not going to become President, but his wife I can get to know her.

[00:05:57] I'm sure that, you know, she and I would get along splendidly and perhaps it might assist me in my legal career. So, much to the chagrin of my Reagan Republican father, I made my way down to Little Rock, Arkansas and started on that campaign. And it really started this just wonderful journey for me. I did get to meet Hillary Clinton. She became a tremendous mentor to me throughout my time in the Clinton administration. She offered me the position as her special assistant when we first went into government and then from there they promoted me to deputy assistant to the President and White House Social Secretary, an extraordinary, wonderful job.

[00:06:40] And during that time where I served for four years—and again, another extraordinary position in our government—I'd like to say I uniquely held these two amazing jobs in government. I also know well, as serving as Social Secretary, looked across Pennsylvania Avenue at that post of Chief of Protocol with a bit of an envious eye. I grew up in a household where many languages were spoken, many traditions, cultures were celebrated, and certainly a lot of different foods were served because my mother came from Mexico, my father from Croatia. And I was first generation American.

[00:07:28] So in my core, who I was was this appreciation for the differences of other cultures, of other people from other countries. I always wanted to be on the global stage and and to really celebrate, highlight these differences. So when President Obama offered Secretary Clinton the position as Secretary of State, she highly recommended me as his Chief of Protocol. And even though he did not know me, he did I'm sure a little background check on me. But he did put my name forth to the Senate to be confirmed as Chief of Protocol. So it was a real bit of a winding road and sits in my passion for politics that can lead to a whole host of opportunities. And my dedication to government service. I truly cherish my time in government. It was invaluable to me and I feel honored to have served in both of those capacities. And then also to have a mentor who looked out for me along the way, who sat on this higher branch and constantly thought of other opportunities for me and would raise me up when those opportunities came. So that's that's the roundabout way of saying, John, that's how I became Chief of Protocol.

John Gans [00:09:01] Well, it's an amazing story. And as I think people can imagine, somebody that is a part of these historic meetings and a part of history being made has some tremendous stories to tell. And I found what I'm sure you have found and certainly people who have heard your stories will say, is that sometimes it's best to understand protocol by highlighting when it goes wrong. The disaster. You tell so many good stories in your book. What's your favorite example, either in government or out, of how not to do protocol?

Capricia Marshall [00:09:42] I love the storytelling, as you've noted, the anecdotes really support the points that I was trying to make, the lessons I've learned and the tools that I create along the way and want to share. There are many stories in which I own up to where protocol didn't go according to the plan. And in hindsight, looking back at it, it didn't go according to the plan because there was an element missing, because something wasn't attended to. It was ignored.

[00:10:20] And that's when protocol goes wrong, when you set the plan in place, when you're fully prepared. Oh, my gosh. Protocol has so much power because just the whole practice of preparation, it's optimistic. You're looking forward to your goals. It's influencing. It can give you an edge in the negotiation, in the discussion. It takes away all the anxiety and quells the nerves. It just has a whole host of a great benefit. So when it is ignored, intentions are questioned, chaos can ensue. And I've experienced that a couple of times, one time where our team we delegated away the duty of posting flags at a very important event. And one of those flags was hung by someone who did not have a background in our understanding of flag protocol and one flag, the flag of the Philippines, was inadvertently hung upside down in an inappropriate way. And it had just serious ramifications. First and foremost, the manner in which it was hung indicated that the Philippines was at war, which, of course, it was not. And then also President Obama was about to ask the president of the Philippines for a pull aside to have a really important discussion. So that one error really caused a lot of problems. Our team went immediately into action.

[00:11:56] We corrected the error and I put myself before the government of the Philippines and had to deeply apologize for this mistake. So by not paying full attention, by not adhering to our own rules of flag protocol, we suffered a grievous slight in the end and thankfully, both the government of the Philippines and President Obama were forgiving of me.

John Gans [00:12:31] That's an amazing story and most of the stories I think you catch the mistakes or make the right calls well before you get to the declaring war on the Philippines. The other thing you do really well is document some of the history of protocol. And I think especially for students out there who are studying international relations or learning how the world works, protocol is partly derived from the balance of power and how diplomacy and statecraft and international affairs happen and why they happen. We hear a lot today about how the international order is changing as new powers like China arise, as the United States struggles and other countries jockey for a greater say, how do you think the changing balance of power is going to alter protocol as we know it?

Capricia Marshall [00:13:24] I do not believe it will change it. It will just become that much more important. Protocol puts a set of standards and guidelines in place that both sides in the bilateral relationship will abide by, will follow. But as you point out, as the international order begins to change, the application of protocol will shift and there will be new expectations within those standards and guidelines. But the fact that they are in place, the structure, the road map, stays consistent in its what is that thread of continuity through our diplomatic engagements from the Vienna Convention until today. It puts order in to these changing times. So the protocols of our engagements will not change but the diplomatic engagements themselves, of course, will.

John Gans [00:14:38] You hear, and I think you do such a good job of explaining, the best way to handle situations and make connections. You actually include in the book a handbook of protocol and etiquette titled "What Would Capricia Do?" And I think so many of these little gestures and niceties are changing during the era of coronavirus. And as a result of the pandemic that we're all dealing with today, how do you think coronavirus and COVID is going to change the rules of protocol and interaction?

Capricia Marshall [00:15:13] Oh, my goodness. In so very many ways. In particularly how we are social distancing and having to meet. We are virtually meeting now and we are not meeting face to face. Well, there's a whole new set of protocols that are involved in just the virtual engagement, the virtual meeting. Making sure that you do your homework, know in advance who you're going to be meeting with is even more important before you enter the room, if you will, before you turn that camera on. Looking at your setting where you're very up close and personal. When you go to a meeting in an office building, there's the ambiance, the environment of the room that can distract and also be a part of the engagement. But now we're so focused on what does that person look like, what's right behind them? It's very, very personal. It's very, very close. So you have to pay extra attention. That specificity of language is so important these days as well, because we are virtually meeting or also because when we're outside and we are discussing where we're having an opportunity to meet six feet apart, we have masks on. And so that specificity of language, again, is so important to making sure that what you are conveying is understood because we want to avoid any misconceptions. Your gestures are incredibly important as well. You know, emphasizing the point with your eyes or hand gestures is becoming a bit more commonplace. I've noticed as people are speaking with one another. And then when we do come together outside of the—oh! And also one other point on a virtual meeting is that when the camera does come on, make sure that you're introducing yourself. Make sure that you're introducing everyone who's in attendance. Again, it's a very different format. You want to make sure that there aren't any unknowns involved and that everyone is familiar with those faces that are on the screen and and also the agenda. Here's the work at hand, and you want to get quickly to that agenda. People are spending a lot of time in this virtual space. And so we want to make sure that you're moving your agenda forward, moving it along as rapidly as possible. When we meet face to face, courtesy, respect, those tenets certainly hold true and are even more important. People have a varied level of risk that they're willing to take. And so if someone cancels on you at the last minute, be understanding. They tried, they wanted to come to your event, whether it was a a small gathering of two to four people in your backyard, socially distanced. But they just couldn't bring themselves to do it. Also, as a guest, be respectful. Don't bring a surprise along like an extra guest, because a host then is put into a horrible position of "Now what do I do with this person?" If the host asks you to BYOM "bring your own masks" then adhere to that. Make sure that you are and that you are adhering to local guidelines, your city and state guidelines. If gatherings are limited to 10 in the first phase or 50 in second phase, adhere to that. Don't be extra trouble for those who have to enforce those guidelines and regulations.

John Gans [00:18:55] BYOM. That's officially one I haven't heard before, but I'm sure we will all be coming familiar with in the months ahead. So I think my last question is, you just gave great advice to hostesses and potential guests, whether it's online or in person. I thought I would ask because so many students are trying to make a connection in this time, whether it's with a professor, whether it's with a potential job, interview, or whether it's just in general trying to reach out to the world. How do you recommend that students who don't always have hosting responsibilities or maybe the power to determine the rules of engagement, how do you recommend they behave in this new world?

Capricia Marshall [00:19:44] Well, what is exciting about the virtual space is that people do see you when you're up in the gallery format. You really get an opportunity to be face to face with a speaker sometimes or people who are hosting certain engagements that you would have been, in the back of the room for. And they would have never seen you. So I say be a joiner. Be a participant. Make sure that you're stepping into this virtual space in a really productive way. Find discussions of interest in your career path or just that you long thought about and may be of interest at this point. You want to invest some time in learning more about a specific culture or a specific topic, industry, whatever it might be, really sink into that space because we're given opportunities today on the virtual gatherings that we've never been given before. And I think that this could be wonderful ways in which young people can meet people, can social network in a very unique way to build up those essential relationships for their future. Or just to, frankly, make them better people. It's a wonderful way of doing that. I also think that, I speak a lot about in the book the importance of doing the research and doing your homework. Make sure that in every engagement that you're a part of that you do that, that you are looking into the background. I did this, of course, for the President of the United States. I had to make sure that he had as much information as he possibly could before he stepped into any spit and into any discussion or conversation. I think it's really important that people take that time and effort to learn more about folks, learn more about the discussion at hand. The issues that will be addressed. And you will be better for that at the end.

John Gans [00:22:03] Well, as you may have heard, we always end our podcast with a few questions inspired by our friend Ben Franklin, who is a person who wouldn't mind making sure and asking hard questions all the way through his life. He was one of Penn's first trustees, and he developed a questionnaire that he used for conversations among fellow Philadelphians interested in current global affairs. We've updated it for use today and to anchor our Global Cable podcast. These are short questions that can have short answers. So the first one is probably a challenge for somebody who has met so many amazing people and works with so many amazing people. But who would you most like to meet today and why?

Capricia Marshall [00:22:47] Well, I'm assuming that this person can have a past. So I'm going back, I would go back in history and I would love to meet women like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. What they did at the forefront of the women's suffrage movement, as well as being women of color, and the importance of that in fighting for equality on both extremes. I can't imagine how incredibly difficult that was. But the strength that they had to do what they did is just exemplary. And I would love to sit down and have a chat with them.

John Gans [00:23:28] That's excellent. We're all also now doing a lot more social distancing and staying at home a lot more. And part of that has allowed us to do a special summer podcast on books that we're all reading, including your own. So we asked if you've read anything, whether it's an article or book, seen anything, movie or documentary, or listen to anything, podcast or music, that you think our listeners might be interested in. We're all looking for recommendations. So what's on your mind these days?

Capricia Marshall [00:23:57] Well, first and foremost, I would absolutely say please pick up White House Warriors by the fantastic John Gans. You got to read that. It's going to go on my nightstand ASAP. But additionally, I am just starting, and I'm finding it fascinating, Spillover by David Quammen, which was written several years ago about animal infections and the next human pandemic. It is fascinating. Really fascinating.

John Gans [00:24:30] That sounds good. Well, hopefully we won't have any more spillover for a while, but you will be ready when we have some. Do you know of any individuals in the United States or elsewhere who's recently done something that deserves praise or imitation?

Capricia Marshall [00:24:46] Oh, well, that would be former Congressman John Lewis. Today is the day of the honoring his passing at his funeral service. And he's just an extraordinary individual. I was so honored to have met him and to have been able to know him a bit through my work in government. And I think that if we can, as a nation, as a world, imitate his lessons of forgiveness and also for striving to make a difference, I think that we would just be a much better world.

John Gans [00:25:33] I agree with that. And, speaking of something we've read, he wrote an essay before he passed published in The New York Times today. And it's truly amazing and I encourage everybody to take a look at it. So our last question is, you are a Penn parent. So this is a bit loaded. Can you think of anything right now in which Penn students can do to be of service to the country, the world, or even just their parents and their mom or anything Penn students can do?

Capricia Marshall [00:26:05] I have to tell you that I'm going to miss going to campus as much as I did, I think much to the chagrin of my son. We're only a couple hours' drive away, so I used to drive up or stop off on the Amtrak quite often in his first two years. But I was always incredibly impressed when I was on campus at just how thoughtful, how kind, how just worldly, how engaged Penn students are. And I know that they would step into that space again. I know that I do understand that there are some students who are working on the internal policies of changing the culture at Penn and making it a better culture. Richer culture, more compassionate culture. I think that now my son and his lovely girlfriend, Natalie, they've been talking a lot about the pandemic and how Penn students will work towards respecting those guidelines so that the entire community will stay safe so that they can stay in school. No one enjoyed that virtual education. Everyone wants to be in the classroom because that human to human contact, that debate that takes place in the classroom. That's what they want, especially at Penn. So I think those are those are some activities. As well as I know that they talked about, so I'm stealing their idea, about developing a tutoring service for Philly kids who will be stuck indoors during the semester and figuring out ways in which they can help young people in their studies while they are in Philadelphia.

John Gans [00:28:05] That's excellent. We wish them luck. And we encourage them. And we hope to see them at Perry World House, whether virtually or in person in the near future. And we hope to see you there as well, Capricia. Thanks so much for joining us here on The Global Cable and being such a good friend of Perry World House and Penn.

Capricia Marshall [00:28:23] Thank you, my friend, for having me on. So appreciate it.