The art of being tactful
In most day to day communications with others we do not need to specifically be tactful – we respond almost automatically to the ordinary interactions that we have with others. But there is a time that tact is called for – usually in sensitive or explosive interactions. Tact is the ability to appreciate the delicacy of a situation and to do or say the kindest or most fitting thing while remaining truthful. In other words to deal with sensitive situations or people with diplomacy and honesty. The word tact originally referred to touch. Just as sensitive fingers can perceive if something is soft, smooth, rough, hot or cold, so a tactful person can sense the feelings of other people and can perceive how his words or actions affect them. Doing this is not just a skill; it involves a genuine desire to avoid hurting others.
Most people have difficulty in revealing their feelings to just anyone. Nevertheless perceptive people will be able to recognise others’ feelings. Their emotions will be visible in some other way – facial expressions or behaviour. When we are too concerned with the importance of ourselves, our life or job or other things we can easily fail to recognise or care about the needs of others. To avoid being tactless we should always strive to be kind to people, for we do not know how they really feel. We should always be alert to signs that reveal a person’s feelings and respond with appropriate kindness.
To develop the art of tact:
Understanding the feelings of others
We can learn the unspoken language of emotions and behaviours.
- How is the person feeling? Is he shy, arrogant, unhappy or happy, frustrated, sceptical, annoyed, busy?
- Does he feel insulted, ignored, misunderstood?
- What would be the kindest way to help him?
- How could kindness make him feel better?
Parents do well to help their children to cultivate kindness, since this is what will move them to act tactfully.
Maggy noticed her son speaking cruelly to his younger brother. “Do you think that was the best way to talk to your brother?” she asked “Look how upset he is”. She is trying to teach her son the art of acting tactfully and showing consideration for the feelings of others. The son then noticed his younger brother’s flushed face, pouting lips and tearful eyes – the pain he was experiencing – just as his mother had hoped he would. He felt regret and resolved to change. Both these children used the skills taught by their mother to become productive sensitive members of society.
Show that you understand
Tact is especially important when you are having a conflict with someone. Concentrate on the problem rather than criticise the person. Explain how his action affects things and exactly how things can be changed. Then listen. Perhaps you have misunderstood. People need to be understood even if viewpoints differ. Rather than offering a solution, before hearing the matter out, a tactful way of showing that you understand is to repeat the problem or complaint in your own words. This is a kind way of showing that you understand.
Recognise what not to say
Tact includes recognising what not to say – be gentle.
Speech that reconciles
Learning the art of tactful speech will help you to enjoy happy relations with others even when someone has misunderstood your motives and is unpleasant or resentful. Always try to consider how your words will affect others. The right word at the right time can work wonders.