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Tact Is About Making A Point, Not An Enemy

The best advice is to say the right thing or say nothing

Harvey Mackay headshot
Harvey Mackay
Tact making a point

An office supervisor called an assistant in to give her the bad news that she was being fired. He started the conversation with: “Miss Johnson, I really don’t know how we’re going to get along without you, but starting Monday, we’re going to try.”

Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy. The best advice is to say the right thing or say nothing. Choose your words carefully. As Abraham Lincoln put it, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Another U.S. President, Harry Truman, said, “Tact is the ability to step on a man’s toes without messing up the shine on his shoes.”

Tact is especially important in delivering bad news. Handled correctly tact can build credibility and strengthen your reputation, while preserving existing relationships. A tactful approach demonstrates professionalism and good manners, which can lead to career opportunities. Tact is critical for business and life success in handling interactions. Without tact we lose friends and other relationships, respect, work and money.

Maintain Relationships

Tact, as defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary is, “A keen sense of what to do or say in order to maintain good relations with others or avoid offense.”

How many times have you said something without thinking it through and then regretted it? I would venture to say we’ve all been guilty. Tact comprises many things including compassion, courtesy discretion, diplomacy, respect and thoughtfulness.

Often we are so focused on achieving results that we forget how we come across to other people. Seek out a group of people you trust who can give you valuable feedback on your communication skills. Be open to their suggestions and work on improving.

It’s important to note that tact is more than language. Tact encompasses how people react to situations and includes body language such as pacing or facial expressions — frowns, sighs or a rolling of eyes.

Tact wins friends; the lack of it often loses them. Tactful people make friends because they have a way of drawing people out and inducing them to express the best within them.

Be Honest

What tact does not include is dishonesty. Sometimes it involves sugar-coating the words so they are easier to hear. Even then, you must be careful not to overdo the syrup or the message may get lost.

Once two rival hatters visited President Lincoln, each of whom presented him with a hat he had made. After the presentation, both hatters stood back expectantly awaiting Lincoln’s comments.

Lincoln looked over the two hats very carefully and then remarked solemnly, “Gentlemen, they mutually excel each other.” Now that is tactful!

One of the worst things you can do is to let your emotions get the best of you. Calm yourself down in stressful situations by taking a break, going for a walk or whatever technique will help you maintain your composure. Learn to control your emotions. As the saying goes, you can’t “unring the bell.” Stop and think before you speak.

Hardest When Disagreeing

Our society has become increasingly accustomed to spouting the first sentiment that comes to mind — just look at the comments sections online to see how people respond to situations. I would hope that those folks would be less inclined to be so uncivil if they were interacting face-to-face.

Tact is probably the hardest when disagreements pop up, creating tension. Be open-minded and listen to the other side, and perhaps that will encourage them to listen to your point of view too. It’s ok to respectfully disagree but keep it civil.

Benjamin Franklin said, “If you must speak your mind, then mind how you speak.”

Tact is the ability to think of things far enough in advance not to say them. And for the times when you’re not as diplomatic as you should be, you need to be quick on your feet.

Practical Tact

A loud Army sergeant is drilling some recruits when he gets a message that the grandmother of one of them has died, so he shouts, “Jones, your grandmother died!” And Jones promptly faints.

The sergeant’s superior officer takes him to the side afterward and tells him he should be a bit more tactful about such things.

A week later the sergeant gets word that Smith’s grandfather has passed away. The sergeant enters the barracks and calls everyone to attention announcing, “All those with living grandfathers step forward. Not so fast, Smith.”

Mackay’s Moral: People with tact have less to retract.

This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine December 2022 issue.
Harvey Mackay headshot
Harvey Mackay
Published on
Nov 30, 2022
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