Use diplomacy first but show that you have the ability to back them up with force if necessary.
This expression was popularized by President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) who used it in a speech in 1901. However, it seems likely that it did not originate with him.
According to Theodore Roosevelt, A Life by Nathan Miller (1992), while Governor of New York, Roosevelt wrote to a friend saying, 'I have always been fond of the West African proverb: "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far." '
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