By Somali K Chakrabarti
Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~ Winston Churchill
As easy as it is to speak your mind out, doing so tactfully requires that a person acquire some distinctive skills. Tact is the talent that allows you to gracefully convey what you stand for and make your point without ruffling feathers.
Tact or diplomacy is needed for managing a vast gamut of relations – ranging from personal relations, to relations with co-workers, to business relations, to national and international relations. Parents need tact to deal with their children, as much as teachers need tact to deal with their students. You need to act with tact while dealing with your boss, your partner, your spouse, and even your friends.
Your ability to get along with people, while maintaining your individuality plays an important role in determining your success path.
In business, tact is absolutely essential when it comes to managing diverse group of people. Leaders, with the use of tact and conviction can get people to willingly do what they want them to do, in a manner so convincing that they relate to the leaders’ idea as their own and feel motivated to work towards it. With the increasing degree of complexity and stakeholders, leaders need to act tactfully at each and every stage to influence, persuade and align people with their objectives.
How to be tactful in dealing with people
Here are a few tips that will help you to inculcate the habit of interacting tactfully with others:
Deal with sensitivity
Tact, not only involves knowing what to say and where to say, but also knowing what NOT to say. Showing excess familiarity or pressing for information that one is not obliged to share can make a person look too curious for his own good.
Your manners and sensitivity towards others reflect your maturity in dealing with people and situations. When you try to see things from the other person’s view, it helps you to understand their concerns and address those, if need be, to gain their cooperation.
By calling attention to people’s mistakes indirectly, talking about your own mistakes before criticizing others, identifying and building on common interests, you can win friends and influence people.
Pick Your battles
As one cannot fight every battle, one needs to pick the battles that one must fight for and those that are best ignored. It does not help to be unnecessarily confrontational each and every time someone says something that you don’t like. Knowing where to compromise and where to confront is an essential part of being tactful.
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. ~ Stephen R. Covey
Shooting back your views, discounting an idea or rejecting the viewpoint of another person as soon as it is presented without understanding the rationale behind it, do not result in optimal or effective conversations.
It is often tempting to immediately rebut a person who unexpectedly makes a statement that you strongly disagree with, during meetings or group discussions. However voicing your opinion too aggressively will cause resentment. Making vitriolic personal attack or a public showdown may give a momentary wicked satisfaction, but seldom does it help in improving the situation.
On the other hand, if you remain silent your opinion will never be heard. There lies the need for disagreeing agreeably.
You can reduce the emotional confrontation and yet keep open the lines of communication open by giving evidence or a logical explanation to support your position.
Use of “I” statements like “I hear what you are saying ….” or “I believe..” in place of “You” statements like “You are wrong …” or “You don’t understand” allows a person to be assertive without being aggressive.
It is wise to direct your anger towards problems – not people; to focus your energies on answers, not excuses.
Do not let others provoke you to react
By reacting abruptly to provocations of others you give them the power to disturb your balance and demeanor. Getting perturbed or losing your cool while dealing with an irate customer or during business dealings puts you on the wrong foot. Quite on the contrary, if you keep your calm, you can take people to task for being offensive or abusive.
Let go of baggage
Having unpleasant/ heated exchanges with someone, doesn’t warrant that you bring up that incident whenever you meet next. Letting go off the baggage, interacting normally when you meet up with the person the next time gives you a chance to make a fresh start.
Give advice and praise in small doses
An honest, sincere appreciation and good advice is always encouraging and makes the other person feel important. The effectiveness of praise or advice however, diminishes when showered in excess. Praise more than needed may become gluttonous and advice more than needed may become irrelevant.
Defuse a tense situation
A tense situation at workplace or at home creates stress and needs to be defused before anything productive can be done. Diverting into a different topic, or making a witty comment, not related to the topic of discussion during a heated argument can help in calming down a tense situation. Taking a break or a time –out can sometimes calm the situation for the time being and give you the time to work out on a solution to address the root problem, with a fresh mind.
If you are wrong, admit it
Admitting that you were wrong is a better proposition than defending your poor choices. It is a reflection of your integrity, fortitude and maturity and it helps to you retain the respect of your people.
A tactless person can never make a good leader or an interesting company. Inducing the right dose of tact in your behavior will help you to get the willing cooperation of others.
That is not to suggest you to manipulate people. Like any other skill, the use of tact will give sustainable results only when done in a fair and ethical manner.
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6 Rules for Communicating with Diplomacy and Tact , Dale Carnegie