Breaking Protocol

BY JOSÉ LUCENA*

I would like to share with our readers the following opinion of breaking protocol. I strongly believe that protocol exists to facilitate the
communication and the adoption of a proper conduct among people when moving in certain professional and social situations.

Protocol can be broken by protocol practitioners or by high dignitaries.

Sometimes, as protocol practitioners we must break the proper protocol. Why? Above all, we are managers of sensitivities, therefore to avoid chaos in events where protocol is being used as a key to success, sometimes we have to break it.

This solution should be used with caution, since a protocol breach can destroy the work of a lifetime in a few seconds. However, on several occasions the situation requires a different approach where protocol does not provide the proper solution; the protocol official must therefore use his or her judgment to decide in a few seconds whether breaking the protocol is the solution.

There are several situations in which breaking protocol is indeed the solution to avoid chaos, for example:

When during a ceremony we have to seat the guests by groups according to the list of precedence, if we are run out of time and must speed up to seat everyone at the same time;

When a guest arrives ahead or behind schedule, according to his or her order of precedence, and there is no time to put him or her on standby, waiting to be seating according to precedence.

When a high dignitary breaches protocol it has a different impact and at the same time a different explanation. This can be a deliberate action or a mistake. When done by mistake people tend to crucify the dignitary saying that he or she is not prepared for the post, but when it is done on purpose people applaud and excuse them, because normally this kind of action has a specific meaning: the closeness of the high dignitary to common people. An example of this is when His Holiness Pope Francis breaks protocol to get closer to people or to show that he is just a man performing an earthly mission.

Breaking protocol is sometimes a natural consequence of assuming that “protocol is not about us, it is about the others,” as Inês Pires says.

*About the author

José Lucena is a Portuguese Navy Officer, with the rank of Commander. His present post is Protocol Adviser to the Chief of General Staff of Portuguese Armed Forces. Since 2010 his tasks have been related to protocol, diplomacy (Defence Attachés) and Military Ceremonies.

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