Thursday, December 08, 2022

The necessity of tact

| October 30, 2022 1:00 AM

An office supervisor called an assistant in to give her the bad news that she was being fired. He started the conversation with: "Miss Jones, 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 the old saying goes, "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. Without tact, we lose friends and other relationships, respect, work and money.

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.

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

According to an old story, two rival hatters visited President Abraham 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.

We've 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.

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.

Here's another example: 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 aside 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.

• • •

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website,, by emailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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