Feb 212012
Happy People by Mike Cogh

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.”

Communication by ILRI

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.

More Communication by Mays Business School

How to be Tactful

1. Awareness

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?

Taking Action

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.

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  26 Responses to “The Vizier on Being Tactful”

  1. Have I ever said the wrong thing at the wrong time? More times than I can or want to remember! The Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism includes the concept of Right Speech, which certainly encompasses tact. Your steps are helpful because they require pausing before speaking. Even a small pause, taking a breath, will help us consider the value of what we are about to say. Somewhere I picked up this question. Is what I’m about to say an improvement on silence? We could ask ourselves this question as we pause and go through your steps.
    Galen Pearl recently posted..Butterfly TimeMy Profile

    • Hi Galen,

      Like you I have said the wrong thing at the wrong time more times than I would like to remember.

      If only I had taken the time to pause to reflect on the soundness of my words and delivery, I could avoid a lot of mistakes. Indeed pausing is an important insight you have shared that helps one to become more tactful. Thank you for this valuable wisdom.

      “Is what I am about to say an improvement on silence?” This is also a great question. If we took the trouble to use this question to monitor our speech and delivery, it would go a long way in helping us to be more tactful.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  2. Have I ever said the wrong thing at the wrong time? The pause before the speaking like Galen said is so very important – it’s when we don’t think and our mouths engage that is when we display tactless measures.

    I like the statement from Galen is what I’m about to say an improvement on silence – sounds like a good blog topic –

    You give great advice Irving…..

    Thank you!
    Nancy Shields recently posted..THE DAY THAT TURNS YOUR LIFE AROUND…My Profile

    • Hi Nancy,

      I agree. When I don’t stop to think, when I am eager to say whatever comes to mind, that is when I make tactless mistakes. It would be of great benefit to our relationships if we remembered to pause before we spoke. It would certainly help to make us for tactful.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  3. Hi Irving,

    I’m with Galen, too – sometimes shutting my mouth is the best thing to do!

    That said, I have always endeavored to be tactful, yet I find in certain circumstances I can’t manage it. Truth or honesty versus Tact – well. sometimes I just cannot stand it anymore and will tend to just “say it like I believe it is”.

    For instance, I will read something about LOA which I know for a fact is utter garbage, and it saddens me to think people will proceed to do nothing, think good thoughts, and imagine their life will change. Then the perpetrator will reap the reward of spreading this nonsense, and it irks me. I know, I know, judge not lest ye be judged and all of that – but sometimes I simply cannot do nothing. Rather untactfully! I must learn to take a page from your book…
    Julie | A Clear Sign recently posted..The End Of An EraMy Profile

    • Hi Julie,

      I have certainly had instances in my life where it was better to keep my mouth shut. Thankfully, I managed to do so most of the time. At least, I got better at this as I got older.

      I think it is possible to be truthful and honest in a tactful way. It is not just what we say, but how we say it that matters. Truth with tact helps to soften the blow.

      As for your example, if people you know read such stuff, then you could nudge them to taking some action to make things happen. I would tell them that it helps to speed things along and it wouldn’t hurt. Something to that effect.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

      • While this subject can be prttey touchy for most people, my opinion is that there has to be a middle or common ground that we all can find. I do appreciate that youve added relevant and intelligent commentary here though. Thank you!

        • Hi Zilma,

          Yes. We should always try to find the middle ground where possible.

          Doing so will bring more harmony to relationships which is important in this world.

          Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  4. I used to be the master of being tactless! I spoke first and thought about what I said… later. I had to learn the hard way that there is definitely the right place and time for everything; especially when it comes to expressing our feelings about something to others. The “how” we say things can be just as hurtful as the “what” we actually say.

    I’ve learned that being tactful is essential in many areas in our life. And that our words carry more power than we’d like to sometimes think. While apologies are always good when we cross those imaginary lines, the truth of the matter is once we let our words escape from us, the damage is usually already done.

    This was a great topic, Irving. And your insights were definitely on point.

    Thanks! :)
    Deeone Higgs recently posted..The 7 Links Challenge and The Tell Me About Yourself Award… Oh Dear!My Profile

    • Hi Deeone,

      I am not sure if I want to give you a high five for being the master of tactlessness since I too held that title as well. That said, we have learned from our experiences that we need to be tactful and to think about what we say.

      I agree fully with you. Apologies are good, but it is better not to have crossed the line in the first place.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  5. Hi Irving…I like the topic you have stated here…Seems very interesting and I think I learned a lot about being tactless or not…Thanks!
    GelliAnnh recently posted..How To Stop A Panic AttackMy Profile

    • Hi GelliAnnh,

      I am glad you benefited from my article.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

      • These are all good points. Please allow me to offer some more.Post the bnusseis plan and goals. Everybody needs to understand the company’s direction if they are going to pull together in the right ways.Be candid about the company’s financial performance. Don’t have to divulge sensitive data, but people will work harder and even accept pay or hours cuts if they know what the difficulties are.Don’t allow managers to flash their bling and toys during tough times. Otherwise the rank-and-file feel that they’re being exploited.The company should be involved with the community. It doesn’t have to cost much, but it does grow pride amongst the workers.Try to minimize office politics. Nothing kills motivation as fast as perceived favoritism or problems that are ignored.Periodically review policies to check that they are accomplishing expected results. Modify or replace them if needed. Otherwise they become part of a negative company culture.

        • Hi Maria,

          Those are great points you have highlighted about being tactful in the workplace.

          I agree that if the company took steps to be more tactful, the workplace environment will be more conducive leading to greater productivity. Office politics is a problem. But it is true that it can always be better managed.

          Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  6. I’m a natural rapport builder, so anything that helps me develop more rapport with the people I communicate with, is a good thing. :-)

    Being tactful is key in developing rapport, and can help us to influence, negotiate and get the outcome we want.

    Thanks for your excellent post Irving.
    Hiten recently posted..Meditation session at Positive ProvocationsMy Profile

    • Hi Hiten,

      Being a natural rapport builder is great!

      I agree that being tactful has many uses such as helping us to get the outcome that we want as you say.

      Indeed this is one of the main reasons why we should be tactful. What is the point of saying something if it produces an undesired effect on the other person?

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  7. Pausing, as Galen says is vital. Your steps would be great for me, as I sometimes speak in a round-a-bout way and the end result is not as clear as I would like it to be. This can lead to a misunderstanding… hence, I say again, your list is perfect… for me!

    I am definitely not the one to ask to tell a joke. All in all, I am pretty good at avoiding what some call “foot in mouth disease.”

    • Hi Barbara,

      Agree. Pausing is vital. It also gives the other party time to absorb what you said. I have had conversations with people who speak so quickly that I simply could not keep up.

      I too have spoken in a roundabout way when I am not clear about my goals or what I want to say. Being direct in a tactful way is an art. With clarity comes greater tact. But this is something we can all get better at with practice.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  8. As a business woman, being tactful must really empower in my daily activities when dealing different clients in order to extend my minds and hearts to them……..
    Charm26 recently posted..When Are You Most FertileMy Profile

    • Hi Charm26,

      Tact is certainly useful and necessary in the world of business. I cannot imagine getting successful outcomes without being tactful.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  9. Hi Irving,
    I love to talk, so saying the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time comes with the territory! I’ve become astutely aware of power of words through my mistakes. I’ve always seen first hand the power of my language to uplift, support and inspire folks to higher levels of thinking and action.

    I’ve noticed about me, that when I feel worthy, I project prosperity. It all begins on the inside. When you engage in interesting conversations that bring out the best in someone, it’s because you see him as a valuable being. You couldn’t see this value if you didn’t see yourself as valuable, tact is a natural result.

    What better way to help others help themselves, than to than to see their worthiness and to help them to see it? The real reward comes in knowing that you lift yourself to a higher plateau of living by helping others lift themselves.
    rob white recently posted..The Purpose of AgingMy Profile

    • Hi Rob,

      It’s true. Words can lift a person up or bring them down. Having been on both sides of the fence before I know full well what words can do.

      And you’re right. It all depends on how we feel inside. If we feel worthy and good about ourselves it shows in our actions and words.

      I agree that we should always try to help others to see the value inside them. Sometimes people can’t see the value in themselves because of their perspectives. Our words can help to shift their perspectives and lift them up. This is a meaningful way to use our words wisely.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  10. I didn’t use to practice enough tact previously because I tended to be very direct. Over the years, I have realized that to be tactful would be wiser. My intention was not to hurt and so my words should reflect or convey what I truly mean.

    Awareness is certainly key. Taking the step back to allow some timely reflection is helpful. I certainly believe that it is important to practice tact and grace. It will certainly reduce misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

    Thanks for highlighting attention on this topic! I think more people should be aware of its value!
    Evelyn Lim recently posted..Luminary Interview: Tess Marshall – The Bold LifeMy Profile

    • Hi Evelyn,

      Like you, I used to be very direct to the point of being blunt. I prided myself on being straightforward and brutally honest. Today I also realize it is wiser to be tactful. Being blunt and hurting people would negate the help that I was trying to convey in the first place.

      Our delivery is just as important as our message. Tact and grace is definitely useful in getting our points across. This will indeed reduce miscommunication and improve our relationships.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  11. i think being tactful also means the person is quite compassionate and sensitive to others in the first place, so inner heart is a beautiful heart, otherwise it’s hard to be tactful and diplomatic :)

    Noch Noch
    Noch Noch | be me. be natural. recently posted..writing poetry againMy Profile

    • Hi Noch Noch,

      Yes you are right. The desire to be tactful stems from compassion and sensitivity to others.

      Because we want what is good for them, we try to get our points across in ways that they are more receptive to.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

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