We all have to communicate painful or sensitive information at some point in our careers. And, while telling the truth is essential, we must consider how we do so. Tact allows us to be honest while also respecting another person’s feelings. We can maintain relationships, build credibility, and demonstrate thoughtfulness when we communicate tactfully. In this article, we’ll look at what tact is, how to be tactful and how you can develop it.
What Is Tact?
Tact is the ability to tell the truth while taking into account other people’s feelings and reactions. It enables you to provide difficult feedback, communicate sensitive information, and say the right thing to maintain a relationship.
Emotional intelligence, respect, discretion, self-awareness, thoughtfulness, compassion, subtlety, honesty, diplomacy, and courtesy are all examples of tact.
What Is the Importance of Tact?
The ability to communicate sensitively has numerous advantages.
First, whether in a personal or professional setting, tact is essential when delivering bad news or providing critical feedback.
Next, communicating tactfully improves your reputation and credibility. It enables you to maintain existing relationships while also forging new ones. A tactful approach demonstrates personality, maturity, professionalism, and integrity.
Tact also demonstrates politeness. If you can communicate with grace and consideration, you will stand out and be noticed for the right reasons. This could lead to new job opportunities.
Finally, tact can help you avoid conflict, find common ground, and give others the opportunity to save face. As a result, it can be a valuable asset in negotiations and conflict resolution.
Tip 1: Culture has a strong influence on tact.
What is perceived as open, fair feedback in one culture may be regarded as profoundly rude in another; similarly, a message from a manager from a tactful culture may be perceived as weak – or completely missed – by a team member from a more forthright culture.
When providing feedback to people from a different cultural background, be culturally aware. Also, modify the examples below to fit your own culture.
Tip 2: Being tactful is important, but you also need to get your message across and ensure that your rights are respected. When being tactful, make sure you handle issues assertively rather than submissively.
We’ve provided a few examples of tact below:
● Your boss requests that you help them with some of their work so that they can leave early on Friday. However, your schedule is jam-packed, and you’re not sure you’ll be able to complete everything on time.
“Thank you for entrusting me with some of your responsibilities,” a tactful response might be. I’m sorry that I won’t be able to assist you this time due to my workload. Is there anything I can do for you next week, when I’ll have more time?”
● One of your team members is frequently late for work, which has an impact on their performance. You’re tempted to call them out at the next staff meeting after yet another missed deadline. Although this may make you feel better in the short term, it is insensitive; instead, speak with them privately about their tardiness.
You could even begin with a gentle approach. As an example, “I’ve noticed you’ve had difficulty arriving at work on time. What can I do to assist?”
As you can see, tact demonstrates emotional sensitivity and increases the likelihood of a favourable outcome.
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Use the following strategies to communicate tactfully:
- Create an appropriate environment and think before speaking
How many times have you said something hastily and then regretted it?
To begin, listen actively when others speak. Then, use empathy and emotional intelligence to connect with others and see things through their eyes. Finally, work to build trust so that people understand your intentions are sincere and compassionate.
- Establish the Appropriate Time
Your coworker has just learned that they will be laid off at the end of the year, while your boss has just informed you that you have been promoted. Is this the best time to share your good news? Certainly not!
Saying the right thing at the right time is referred to as tact. Be considerate of your surroundings and remain silent. Before you speak, make sure you’re aware of who you’re with and where you are.
- Pick Your Words Wisely
The words you use can have an impact on how others perceive your message.
Avoid beginning sentences with “you.” Saying, “You need to do better next time,” for example, will make the other person defensive. Instead, use softer, more indirect language such as, “Next time, I think your presentation would be stronger if you spent more time researching.”
It’s especially important to use “I” statements when arguing or giving constructive criticism. When you do this, you take responsibility for your feelings rather than blaming them. “I see it differently,” for example, or “I had to go over that section several times before I understood your message.”
When you disagree with someone, you could also use a “cushion,” or connecting statement. For example, instead of saying, “You’re wrong – our team did well last quarter,” say, “I appreciate your opinion, but our team did well last quarter.”
Also, be concise when speaking in a tense situation. When you’re uncomfortable, it’s tempting to keep talking, which increases the likelihood that you’ll say too much or say something you’ll regret. Be truthful and assertive, and say only what is necessary.
- Pay Attention to Your Body Language
Your sales figures are “fine,” according to your boss. However, they avoid your gaze and fold their arms across their chest as they speak. Although your manager’s words are neutral, their body language calls their message into question.
When you’re tactful, your body language matches your message, and you appear open when communicating, even if the news is bad. Make eye contact, don’t cross your arms or legs, don’t point, and maintain good posture. Open body language and a courteous vocal tone convey your honesty and willingness to collaborate.
- Do Not React Emotionally
When you’re angry or upset, it’s difficult to communicate tactfully. Allow yourself some time to calm down before responding.
Learn to manage your emotions at work. Take a break from a stressful situation by going for a walk or using deep breathing techniques to regain your composure.
It’s also critical to understand the people, words, issues, or situations that can lead to imprudent communication. Consider the last time you lost your cool or said something you later regretted. Why did you react in this manner? What made you lose control?
Understanding your triggers will help you control your emotions or walk away in the future.
The following are some examples of common situations in which tact can mean the difference between a positive and negative experience.
Departure of Team Members
It’s never easy to say goodbye to someone. Because these are often emotional and tense situations, tact is essential.
Begin by clearly explaining what is going on. This is a difficult and unpleasant message to communicate, but you owe it to your team member to be honest. If you let emotion dictate how you deliver your message, you risk “sugar coating” facts and failing to make your point.
Next, explain your decision and provide emotional support. It is critical to be truthful in this situation, but you can also be kind and supportive.
Giving feedback, especially negative feedback, can be difficult. The key to giving effective feedback is to do so frequently and tactfully.
It’s a good idea to “sandwich” constructive feedback between positive comments. Starting with something positive helps the person relax and reminds them that they’re doing a good job. And when you end on a positive note, people are less likely to be upset.
However, avoid sandwiching the constructive feedback between too many positives, or people may get the wrong message. Also, avoid employing this strategy too frequently, as people may come to distrust positive feedback from you.
Turning Down an Invitation
Some people may consider it crass or insensitive to decline an invitation with an unequivocal “no.”
Begin with something positive: “Thank you for considering me. I’m sure it’ll be a fantastic event.” Next, politely decline: “I’m sorry that I won’t be able to attend.” Finally, end on a positive note: “Hopefully, my schedule will be less hectic the next time and we will be able to get together.”
Your coworker is the office gossip, and they are spreading rumours about another coworker while you are present.
You can deflect and neutralise the gossip in a variety of ways.
Say something positive, such as, “Jill may struggle with her sales figures, but she’s a hard worker.” Alternatively, request that they stop: “I don’t want to discuss it, especially since we don’t have all of the facts. Instead, let’s talk about the upcoming merger.” You can also say, “I don’t want to discuss people behind their backs,” or “Let’s discuss this when Jill is here so she can address these issues.”
Tact is especially useful in conflict resolution because it can alleviate tension, remove blame, and allow both parties to save face.
Assume you and your colleague have a disagreement about who will manage the next team project. Your colleague has led the previous two projects and wants to lead this one because it is in their area of expertise.
Consider your colleague’s position before insisting on taking over this project. They handled previous projects with skill and professionalism. Furthermore, this project is a perfect fit for them; you may struggle with it because you lack their experience.
To this conflict, a diplomatic response would be, “You’re right. You should lead this project because it is a good fit for your skills. I need some team leadership practise as well, so how do you feel about me shadowing you and then leading?
A diplomatic response to this conflict would be, “You are correct. You should lead this project because it is a good fit for your skills. I need some team leadership practise as well, so how do you feel about me shadowing you and then leading the next project?”
Your boss has requested that you present to a group of industry professionals. Except for one attendee, everyone is engrossed in it. They’re new to their role, and you can tell they’re hesitant to ask questions because they don’t want to lose face.
To avoid confusing your audience, avoid using jargon or long words during presentations. Explain complicated concepts clearly so that people do not need to ask for clarification. Be self-deprecating when appropriate to put others at ease, and leave plenty of time for questions so that everyone leaves feeling informed.
Tact is the ability to convey a difficult message in a way that respects the feelings of others and preserves relationships. Emotional intelligence, discretion, compassion, honesty, and courtesy are just a few examples.
Use the following strategies to improve your tact:
- Make the appropriate environment and think before you speak.
- Choose an appropriate time.
- Choose your words wisely.
- Take note of your body language.
- Never make an emotional reaction.