Even when you have mastered effective communications techniques – attentive listening and getting your message across – you may still not be a consummate communicator.

All people and all communication situations are unique. And so the selection and use of your set of communications tools are dependent on, and will vary with, every situation. Recognizing these situations, and choosing your strategies wisely, and executing well, makes for polished communications. This is the Art of Tact and Diplomacy.

Tact and diplomacy are methods used to aid effective communication, especially during negotiation and when attempting to be persuasive or assertive.

Developing effective tact and diplomacy skills requires practice and good judgment. Using these skills is not limited to formal communications such as in the workplace: they are also important when developing and maintaining friendships, romantic relationships and relationships in the family. Your family may be more willing to forgive you than your professional colleagues but they deserve just as much respect.

In the previous Parts we gave three broad pre-requisites to practicing the Art of Tact and Diplomacy in cultivating effective relationships and getting what you need from them: Emotional Intelligence; Attentive Listening; Getting Your Message Across.
In addition to these three communications pre-requisites, practicing the art of tact and diplomacy relies on common sense, good judgment, being polite and courteous, respecting other people’s view-points and cultural differences. And recognizing that these factors vary from situation to situation.

Knowing what is the most appropriate communication technique/behaviour to adopt in any given situation can be problematic; this is due to the unpredictable nature of communication and of human relations generally. (But I bet you already knew that!)

Two ‘Non-strategies:

1. Don’t communicate!

There may be times when the best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut but in general interpersonal communication is not optional.

We may, at times, think we can avoid conflict by trying not to communicate; but not communicating is not possible. In fact the harder we try not to communicate, the more we do! In our silence we are communicating something: perhaps that we are shy, perhaps that we are angry or sulking, perhaps that we are too busy. Ignoring somebody is nevertheless communicating with them; we may not tell them we are ignoring them but through non-verbal communication we make that apparent.

We communicate far more, and far more honestly, with non-verbal communication than we do with words. Our body posture and position, eye-contact (or lack of it), the smallest and most subtle of mannerisms, all are ways of communicating with others. Furthermore we are constantly being communicated to – we pick up signals from others and interpret them in certain ways. Whether or not we understand is based on how skilled we are at interpreting other’s interpersonal communication, and telegraphing our understanding. We cannot avoid communicating. (Okay, there may be some questions your wife asks that should not be answered, except with extreme tact. Maybe that is lying. More on this in a later Part.)

2. Speak first, Apologize after

Once it’s Out, it’s Out.

The process of Interpersonal Communication is irreversible – and it can take a mere fraction of a second to let something slip. You can wish you hadn’t said something and you can apologize for something you regret you said – but you can’t take it back. If you cross the line of social acceptability, or step on toes, or blurt out something stupid, most times you can beg forgiveness and it will be forgiven – once. But if you use this strategy multiple times others’ patience runs thin; eventually you will have to find solutions you’re your social clumsiness. It is worse if you adopt this strategy deliberately. Being tactless and blunt – and apologizing afterwards – is a failed strategy used only by bullies.

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/executive-coaching/communicating-with-tact-diplomacy/