Consciously or not we often adopt communications strategies based on previous communication encounters. These encounters may or may not be appropriate points of reference, or the previous encounters are no longer relevant to a successful communication this time.

Unfortunately our preconceptions of others, and those of us, are often incorrect. We may adopt a guarded, or aggressive posture, or words or tone, even unknowingly. This can mean that our communication is inappropriate and therefore more likely to be misunderstood. As the goal of all communication is to be understood (and even to cause the other to act on our communication) if we don’t get the desired outcome it can be said that we have failed to communicate.

The following ten strategies are designed to help you think about how you can plan for and use tact and diplomacy effectively; they may be simple to understand but can take a lifetime to master:

1. Prepare

– Whenever you can, think about, plan, even ‘rehearse’ the conversation before it happens. Recall your potential weaknesses in communications and be prepared.

– When you’re planning a potentially difficult conversation you should first focus on knowing what you want to achieve: what is your favoured outcome? Write it down and think about your reasons. Try to take a step back from your personal opinions and think about the facts surrounding the situation.

– Consider and write down what the objections might be from others. Think carefully about your answers to their concerns; demonstrate that you have considered their opinions or arguments.

2. Keep an open mind

– Start all interpersonal communication with an open mind; listen to what is being said rather than hearing what you expect to hear. You are then less likely to be misunderstood or say things that you regret later.

3. Keep your emotions in check

– Do not enter into any communications (especially negotiations) in an angry or stressed way. Try to remain calm and keep an open mind. Find out the facts, as well as what is and what is not possible before you react.

4. Master the art of pace and silence

– Give yourself time to think before you speak.

– Listen completely to what the other person (or people) has to say. Watch for non-verbal communication, such as body language and their tone of voice, to help you understand. Hold back your own opinions and ideas until you have had a chance to understand the other persons point-of-view, and then consider your responses carefully to fit with the feedback you are receiving. This may sound like laboured deliberate negotiations not communications but in fact, especially with practice it doesn’t take as much time as you think and can be quite natural. The trick is to learn to be comfortable with pauses and a measured pace. Most blunders happen because of rushed communications.

5. Positive Reinforcement

– The use of encouraging words alongside non-verbal gestures such as head nods, a warm facial expression and maintaining eye contact, are more likely to reinforce openness. The effect is to:

– Induce others to participate in discussion (particularly in group work)
– Signify interest in what other people have to say
– Pave the way for development and/or maintenance of a relationship
– Allay fears and give reassurance
– Show warmth and openness
– Reduce shyness or nervousness in ourselves and others.

6. Negotiate

– If what you seek is in conflict with the other person’s ideas, you may have to think about and discuss how adjustments can be made to provide a better result for both of you in the long run. Mutual sacrifice is usually seen more favourably than one-sided sacrifice and certainly better than being confrontational or obstinate. Aim to reach a revised position which results in a win-win outcome, or at least a reasonable compromise.

– Strengthen your argument by offering time-scales of when you foresee the benefit of your proposals being reached.

– Be precise in giving figures and dates.

– Favour logic and fact over personal opinion.

– But don’t forget empathy and positive relations.

7. Effective use of questions

– If possible turn statements into questions. Rather than directly voicing your opinion, turn your statement into a question for the other person to think about. (But be careful about your tone in questioning that it doesn’t sound dismissive or a challenge.) This is particularly useful if you are not entirely sure what you are able to achieve or exactly what is needed to overcome a problem. This strategy often allows for more exploration of options – a more open approach than just stating your opinion.

8. Manage your emotions

– If the conversation gets heated, try to give yourself room to respond in ways that help rather than inflame a situation. If you can, catch yourself at the moment your gut reaction wants to take over: take a breath and give yourself time. Tell the other person that you need to think about what they just said, rather than feel obliged to answer immediately. Take control of yourself, and the situation, and avoid saying or doing something you may later regret. Taking control of social situations in a way that leaves both parties feeling comfortable with the outcome is an important part of showing tact and diplomacy.

9. Remember to be assertive

– being tactful and diplomatic does not mean bowing to pressure or giving up on what you want.

10. Keep an eye on the prize!

– Don’t let the process of the conversation distract you from your preferred outcome; try not to go off on a tangent or get bogged down in irrelevant details. Avoid the competitive urge to best or challenge the other party with your logic and convictions. Remember, you could win the battle and lose the war.

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: