“Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” – Isaac Newton

“Diplomacy is the art of letting somebody else have your way.” – David Frost

Tact and diplomacy are methods used to aid effective communication, especially during negotiation and when attempting to be persuasive or assertive. First we must learn how to communicate; then we learn tact and diplomacy.

Tact and diplomacy are skills centred around an understanding of other people and being sensitive to their opinions, beliefs, ideas and feelings. The ability to assert ideas or opinions, knowing what to say and how to say it without damaging the relationship by causing offence are hard earned skills.

Effective use of such skills comes from being able to sense accurately what another person is feeling or thinking at any given time and then responding in such a way as to avoid bad feelings or awkwardness, while at the same time asserting or reflecting your own ideas and feelings in a delicate and well-meaning fashion.

Tact and diplomacy has four main facets:
• Emotional Intelligence: The ability to recognize, in ourselves and in others, what role emotion is playing in our interaction with others. Emotional intelligence is our ability to engage our emotional selves in appropriate ways, and to influence others’ emotional response to us and the situation appropriately.

• Attentive Listening: The key to effective communications is listening. Attentive listening is concerned with both active listening and empathetic listening. It means not only engaging our minds to grasp the full meaning of what the other is trying to convey, but to show them respect while they are communicating. Active listening means a fully involved processing of the information being transmitted. It is more a cognitive process than an emotional process but it still matters greatly to the self-esteem of the other person that you paid attention to them. Empathetic listening is more of an emotional process than cognitive and it requires that we try to put ourselves fully in the other person’s position, to experience what they are experiencing, including, especially, their emotional needs.

• Getting your message across: is the other half of effective communications; listening may be the prerequisite but you still are entitled to express your own point of view and work towards the other hearing and understanding it. Getting your message across not only requires clear thinking, careful formulation of your thoughts, adequate vocabulary and expression, but also the self-esteem and assertiveness to express your point of view, yet without causing social offense or creating a defensive response in the other. It is about balancing the competing forces of honesty and politeness. Effective communication is not about ‘political correctness’, but it is about social sensitivity.

• Selecting the Right Strategy: practicing the art of tact and diplomacy is also situational. EI helps us diagnose the situation but our response – and the degree to which we utilize hard or soft degrees of assertiveness – needs to be appropriate to the situation. Recognizing and deploying when to be firm, when to accommodate, when to insist, and when to defer are critical to long term success.

Using tact and diplomacy appropriately can lead to improved relationships with other people and is a way to build and develop mutual respect, which in turn can lead to more successful outcomes and less difficult or stressful communications.

We will explore these Four Facets in subsequent Blogs. Be patient. This is a bit like a Charles Dickens syndication.

If you are interested in exploring these ideas further AFS Consulting has a program for you delivered in one-on-one coaching modality: Mastering the Art of Tact and Diplomacy. Check it out here: https://afsconsulting.ca/Coaching/Counseling/Communicate-Tact-Diplomacy/