Have you ever said the wrong thing at the wrong time and place? What did it cost you? Have you ever regretted what you said once you faced the consequences of your words? What did you have to do to make amends? How did saying the wrong thing affect your relationships?
We could avoid many problems in life if only we were more tactful. Being tactful involves not only what we say, but how and when we say it. To understand the importance of being tactful, let us examine tactfulness in detail first.
What is Tact?
According to dictionary.com, the definition for tact is as follows:
“A keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense; skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations.”
The Need for Tactfulness
A man in a dangerous situation, especially when he is not adequate to it, is inclined to be very free with talk and presumptuous jokes. But injudicious speech easily leads to situations that subsequently give much cause for regret. However, if a man is reserved in speech, his words take ever more definite form, and every occasion for regret vanishes. -I-Ching Hexagram 52, 6 in the 5th place
Tact is an essential skill in life. In truth, we need tact whenever we are dealing with people. Imagine serving a ruler with absolute power over your life and death in the Medieval Ages. If you said the wrong thing at the wrong time, it could cost you your life.
Today, the consequences of a lack of tact are less severe. We are lucky because saying the wrong thing will not get us killed. But it can still offend people, sour relationships and get us into deep trouble. Thus we cannot take being tactful for granted.
We may have freedom of speech, but we must use this freedom responsibly. It is not something we can abuse with impunity. Having freedom of speech does not mean that you can say whatever you please without facing the consequences. Such lack of tact and restrain would be unwise. In order to have true freedom of speech, you need to be tactful. Here is a few more reason to be tactful as well.
1. Being Tactful is Likelier to Have a Successful Outcome
Have you ever noticed how some people switch off when you say something? If it is not important, then this does not matter. But if what you say is vital, then the battle is lost before you have even begun. To worsen matters, there might be miscommunication or misunderstandings as a result.
Here, it is not just what you say, but how you say it that matters. Tact lessens the resistance to your message and gets your point across. It makes people more receptive to what you have to say. This increases the likelihood of getting the outcome you want.
2. Being Tactful Prevents Needless Problems
It serves no purposes to create problems for ourselves when we could have avoided them in the first place. Added problems only keep us further from our goals. By being tactful, you avoid offending people at the wrong time and place. This in turn eliminates needless problems that hinder you from reaching your goals. Who knows? Because of your tactfulness, you might just gain the support you need to attain the outcome you want.
How to be Tactful
Be aware of your goals. What do you hope to achieve with what you say? Is there really a pressing need to say this? Is this the best time to deliver your message? Are you in the right frame of mind? Are your emotions and moods clouding your judgement? Do you have any prejudices that might prevent you from being objective?
2. Planning and Preparation
If there is a need to say what you have to say, then what is the best way to say it? How can you deliver your message so that the other person is receptive to it? How will you feel if you heard what you had to say the way you said it? Will it produce the desired effect on you?
3. Knowing Your Audience
What do you know about the nature of the person with whom you are speaking? Do you think they will accept or reject your message and the way you say it? How should you adjust your message and its delivery?
Being tactful does wonders for all our relationships. It does not matter whether it is personal affairs or work. We could all benefit from being more tactful about what we say.
Have you ever said the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time? What happened as a result? What are your views on being tactful? How has being tactful affected your relationships? Do share your thoughts and comments below!
The I-Ching or Book of Changes Translated by Richard Wilhelm, Cary F. Baynes. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1997.