The Art Of Being Tactful

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Are you tactful? Tact is one of the most important skill sets to develop. It can make or break you. Unfortunately, it’s also on the decline. As a society we’ve shifted away from politeness and tact to a more direct and abrasive style of communication. Being direct isn’t bad. However, being abrasive is. In general, people have a hard time separating the two. We’ve adopted the ideology that in order to be heard we have to be abrasive and assert our dominance. But, that’s not true. In fact, it does the exact opposite. Yelling your commands may get a reaction from someone, but the longterm consequences yields the opposite result. Think teenage rebellion. Most cultures don’t have the same issues with teenage rebellion, yet in the US it’s at epidemic levels. So, what is it that they’re doing differently than us? My guess is it lies in our parenting approach.

Parents often forget that children are learning how to interact with others by the way we interact with them. We yell, make demands, don’t listen to their opinions, and forget that they’re little humans that make mistakes just like us. Then we wonder why they grow up to be loud and rude. Well, it’s probably because that’s how we interacted with them. Ideally, we should be teaching them how to handle difficult situations with tact and poise.

I’ve recently wrote an article about poise, and I’ll link it for you. But, what is tact? Being tactful is simply having a sense of knowing what to do or say in order to maintain good relations with others. Sounds simple, but how do you go about developing this skill? 

Characteristics Of Tact

  1. Active listening. Being a good listener is the first step toward being tactful. In order to communicate effectively with others you have to genuinely listen to what they’re saying. That requires you to listen with the intent of understanding. In addition, it’s also important to pay attention to the non-verbal cues they are giving off. It’s important to realize that not every person will feel as comfortable opening up and explaining their position. A tactful person will recognize when someone is feeling uncomfortable or irritable and attempt to help facilitate the discussion to better understanding. For example, if you’re having a disagreement with your girlfriend and she said “it’s fine”, but she’s sitting there glaring with her arms crossed, you know it’s not fine.  Instead of walking away, you might want to gently say something like, “you look upset, what are you feeling?”. If you say it a non-judgmental tone you’re more likely to work through the issue in a respectful manner.Empathy is another important component. It’s a lot easier to extend grace to someone when we understand where they are coming from or what is contributing to their situation. Simply taking the time to think about how you would react, think, and feel in their situation will go along way in being able to effectively communicate.
  2. Choose your words wisely. Take the time to think through before responding. Oftentimes, people will blurt out their response without taking the time to carefully evaluate the words they are using. If you use the wrong words to start with you could inadvertently put up a barrier between yourself and the other person. It would be better to take a few extra minutes to properly choose the correct words to keep the line of communication open. Plus, by taking the time to carefully evaluate your response you are less likely to say something that you would regret later.
  3. Before you speak, make sure that what you’re saying is actually contributing. Don’t just speak to hear yourself talk. If what you’re saying doesn’t add any value to the conversation, then don’t say it.
  4. Don’t get defensive. The minute you start feeling defensive, is the minute you stop listening and thinking clearly. This really goes back to being empathetic. If someone confronts you or offers you their criticism. It’s important not to get defensive. Stop, listen to what they are saying. If there is merit to what they’re saying then you can continue the conversation toward a respectful resolution. If it doesn’t have merit, and they’re blowing off steam then politely thank them for their opinion and respectfully decline to accept their opinion. You could say, “thank you for letting me know how you feel about _____, but this is the right ____ for me at this time.
  5. Don’t discuss offensive topics. This should be a given, but there are certain topics that are very polarizing and are usually not necessary to discuss in social or work situations. The 3 biggest offenders are religion, politics and finances. Unless it’s absolutely necessary to discuss one of these 3 topics, just keep your opinions to yourself. It’s not worth causing a rift simply because your opinion differs. It’s also important to note that just because you don’t get offended by these topics, doesn’t mean others are the same.
  6. Don’t cuss. I know I already told you to choose your words wisely, but this one deserves it’s own spot. It makes you look bad, and unintelligent. Depending on the company you’re with, it may be perfectly acceptable to cuss. However, it’s very important to take note of who you’re with and who is surrounding you before you open your mouth and start swearing. I actually just made this mistake not too long ago. My daughter’s school called because she was sniffling in class. I had to go pick her up and get her tested for Covid. Since appointments are far and few between, I decided to take her to my husband’s clinic. My son had just tested negative 2 days prior so I thought her test would be negative as well. It wasn’t. As soon as the medical assistant handed me the test result and I saw that it was positive, I said “you’ve got to be f***ing kidding me.” I was stressed because I knew I inadvertently messed up my husband’s schedule. His patient population is older and they aren’t too keen on Telehealth. About 70% of the patients canceled their appointments instead of switching to Telehealth. I honestly wished I had just waited the two days and taken her elsewhere. Regardless of my reasoning, it showed a lack of tact and class. Of course, no one there will ever say anything to me because I’m married to their boss, but we all know it looked bad.

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