In my March 1 post, I introduced the matter of giving and receiving advice and I let readers know that over the next few months I would explore different aspects of this important and sensitive topic. Here is the link to that post, if you’d like the reference.
When offering advice to someone, especially if it is unsolicited, tact is an essential ingredient. In today’s bombastic communications environment that is dominated by “reality”shows, current events infotainment-style “news” shows and even presidential debates that not infrequently de-volve into scream fests, it appears that the use and value of tact have been greatly diminished. Name-calling is in vogue, I’m sorry to say.
Tact comes easily for some but for most of us, tact requires first an awareness of its need, followed by lots of practice in its implementation. When a difficult conversation must take place, when in a negotiation, or even when relaxing and chatting with friends or family, tact is a useful skill. Tact adds subtlety and sophistication to your speaking style and makes you look more professional and competent. Furthermore, there will be no good relationships built without it, business or personal.
Being direct in one’s expression is also a useful skill, but the ability to deliver a blunt opinion well is real talent. There is a right way to tell the outrageous truth. The essence of tact is keeping one’s emotions in check, so that the impulse to blurt out hurtful (or semi-incoherent) statements will be curbed. Consider keeping the following suggestions in mind as you work to incorporate the nuances of tact into your communications portfolio.
Especially in a conversation that seems to have the potential to become heated, pause, so that you can listen to what is being said by the other party and give yourself time to organize your thoughts and choose your words carefully. By any means necessary, avoid attacks, threats, arm-twisting, sarcasm, accusations and disrespect. You may be unhappy with what the other person has said or done, but aim to express your displeasure in a polite and yet no-nonsense manner. This approach is not to be confused with backing down.
SOFTEN NEGATIVE FEEDBACK
When you must address the stressful matter of unmet expectations or poor results, the tactful approach is the best way to get you and the other person on the road to effecting a satisfactory solution.
First, search for a way to include a positive observation about the outcome. Next, discuss what came up short. Be diplomatic with your criticism—it may be that you did not clearly communicate your request and thus caused the other person to misunderstand. Make the conversation a teachable moment for both of you.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
It may not be possible to know in advance the best time to wade into a sensitive subject. If you attempt to force a discussion at an inconvenient time, your message will not be well received and if your manner of approach reeks of entitlement, you could damage the relationship.
Always ask if it’s a good time to talk. If it appears that the other person can focus on choosing another time, then ask to do so. But if that person appears to be overwhelmed, back off and revisit the subject at another date. Respect for boundaries is another cornerstone of tact and tact is good business.
Thanks for reading,