Expert Author Susan Leigh
Tact may seem to be irrelevant in today's fast-paced life. Why waste time being diplomatic, taking ages to say something which could effectively be dealt with in a couple of sentences?
But being on the receiving end of someone else's tactless remarks can be painful, annihilate our confidence and feel unnecessarily bitchy and insensitive. Our personal experiences teach us that being aware of the impact of our words and actions is more humane, considerate and ultimately more effective. A little sensitivity can help us deliver an important message in an efficient and constructive way.
Let's look at why it's important to be tactful and consider a few situations where the use of tact can make a real difference:
- Clothing and dress sense can be a minefield to some young people. There are those who dress fabulously with apparent ease. They own the latest fashions, know which styles suit them, always look like they've stepped out of the pages of a magazine. For others in our circle, fashion may be a rather different matter.
Judging someone solely on their appearance is a superficial action. Tact means reflecting on that person's situation. They may have massive personal issues at home; may have little spare money to spend on shopping trips for clothes, may have difficult domestic circumstances which they choose not to share with others. Why not focus on enjoying their company and their individual style. Learn to appreciate the person and value their other important attributes and qualities.
Then there are those people who enjoy being non-conformist with a quirky style that suits them and their personality. Appreciate that not everyone has to look the same. Fashion designers are feted when they invent a new look; they work hard to be original. Learn to value the contributions that quirky individuals can bring.
Another option may be that a person is genuinely not interested in fashion or has no idea where to start or what suits them. If you enjoy this person's company you could befriend them and perhaps even offer to go shopping together. Then, if they're interested, you could have fun putting together their 'look'. A setting like that provides the perfect opportunity to share your experience and perhaps offer advice, being complimentary when they choose a colour or style that you feel really suits them.
Being genuine, honest and tactful improves the quality of your communications whilst being respectful of each other's feelings, tastes and individual styles. A far more humane way of interacting with someone than simply rejecting them because of their choice in clothing.
- Dating can be another potentially volatile situation where tact often needs to be employed. Let's consider those times when we feel our friend is making a fool of themselves, chasing someone who's not interested, someone who's perhaps even cheating on them. Our friend may well be feeling vulnerable, defensive and not want to look stupid. Coming straight out and telling them what you think, have witnessed or overheard may make them feel the need to protect themselves. This can result in them accusing you of being jealous, of lying, of inventing a story to cause trouble. Being too blunt may mean you risk losing the friendship.
Tact often requires us to see the situation from the other person's point of view, to be empathic, understand how they're feeling. How would you like a friend to treat you if you were involved in a messy dating situation? With that in mind it might be better to gently share what you've heard and ask your friend what they think it means. Avoid criticising their date directly as they may view that as criticism of their taste. Far better to let your friend reach their own conclusions, then you can be there for them if the relationship hits a rocky patch. Being tactful enables you to be seen as a good friend; loyal, non-judgemental and supportive.
- Being tactful is not the same as being dishonest. Telling someone they have bad body odour may well be the truth but could hurt someone and cause them enormous shame and embarrassment. It's more sensitive and tactful to share personal concerns you may have had, to refer in general terms to the importance of good personal hygiene, the importance of regularly laundering clothes, or to mention a really good deodourant that you've just discovered.
Only then, if that doesn't work might it be necessary to take someone to one side and have a more forthright discussion, or perhaps ask an appropriate teacher or mentor to intervene.
Respecting other people, appreciating their right to conduct their lives as they see fit, make their own decisions with maybe a few mistakes along the way, is all part of letting each other grow up and become their own person. Being tactful in our dealings with others demonstrates regard, respect, good manners and a sensitive level of understanding about how they may be feeling. So, on balance, it seems that yes, it is important to be tactful at times.