Tactfully Speaking: Giving and Receiving Advice

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 and infotainment-style "news" shows, where even presidential debates can devolve into scream fests and name calling is in vogue, it appears that the use and value of tact have been greatly diminished.

Tact comes easily for some but for most of us an awareness of its need, followed by lots of practice, are necessary. 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 one's communication style and enhances the perception of you as professional, competent, trustworthy and well-mannered. Tact is a basic component of relationship-building and maintenance, whether business or personal.

Being direct in one's expression is also a useful skill, but the ability to deliver a blunt opinion without aggression is a real talent. There is a right way (and many wrong ways) 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 communication style.

Think first

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, 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, as 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 is perceived as condescending, 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 get agreement about scheduling a time to talk in a day or two. Respect for boundaries is another cornerstone of tact and tact is good business.

Thanks for reading,

Source: Kim L. Clark 


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