Tactfulness : A much needed skill especially if you are a Gen Y


I remember my first corporate experience – it was a two-month summer internship. I was very good at asking questions, researching and developing ideas on how to execute my project but I began struggling when I started facing resistance from people. I had to reach out to over 50 people to get their inputs. Some people would not see any value in doing this project, some would be polite to decline, some would be passive-aggressive and would keep on postponing and few people would outrightly reject. 

What I lacked in assertiveness and conflict aversion at that time, I had in perseverance and dedication. I would keep on going back to people but I would not get desired results. I was failing miserably. All the failure would hurt me internally. I would daily go back to my hostel feeling frustrated and blaming ‘others’ for not being able to see value in me. I would ruminate in loops without being able to understand how to convince them. This negative thought pattern and mind frame would also impact my motivation levels, energy, enthusiasm and the way I communicated with my office colleagues. I would not know what was missing.

It was only months later when I started working full time, I realized that the critical ingredient that was missing in my communication recipe was of Tactfulness. 

From the moment I got this realization/awareness, I have been reading, observing and asking people about this. I have enrolled for online courses, searched for answers in NLP ( Neuro Linguistic Programming) etc. All the efforts have paid huge dividends. In last three years, I have improved a lot on being Tactful. Now I can understand other person’s apprehension, priorities, emotions much better. I can acknowledge and articulate those politely in front of them without losing my point. This would help me to convince them without burning any bridges or leaving any bad taste! This has helped me respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment or idiosyncratic behavior.

So what is Tactfulness and how to cultivate it? Below are my two cents

Tactfulness is communication in face of resistance, where people want to disagree, you need to discipline someone, give feedback or decline something (communicate “No”). But doing all these without burning any bridge, without making the other person defensive, without coming across as arrogant or rude and without rubbing it on the other person.

Why is Tact needed?

When we communicate Tactfully, we can preserve relationships, build credibility, and demonstrate thoughtfulness. Tact is being honest and assertive while respecting other person’s feelings.

Tact has two components to it 1) Other person’s feelings 2) Looking for the best solution

Tact can help you to avoid conflict, find common ground, and allow others to save face. It can, therefore, be an important asset in all persuasion scenarios. 

Lack of Tactfulness will have two consequences 1) Either you will put your point and come across as rude/aggressive/abrasive. It can make the other person defensive and shut down her listening or 2) You will only consider other person’s feelings and lose your point and thus a chance to persuade others.

The Internet is filled with Tips, 101s and How tos on Tactfulness. My one blog would not even scratch the surface. Thus I would want to end by addressing the core. If we keep this core in mind we can quickly develop Tactfulness.

I strongly believe that Tactfulness starts with three desires

1) A desire to keep healthy and productive relationship

2) A desire to get the best solution ( Not just ‘My’ solution ) 

3) A desire to encourage and support others while getting things done

Having the mindset to be open to other’s feelings, being curious is very important. One way to do this is by really trying to understand their side and also verbally acknowledging it.

Some very common acknowledgments and validation would be

  • I know you had a very difficult year
  • I understand that this news is not easy to hear
  • I agree that this puts you in a difficult situation

As it is famously said that in most cases the underlying conflict is not the need to be right but the need to be heard and validated. Putting across your points after validating other’s feelings makes them feel at ease and opens them up for finding the best solution.

So the next time you find yourself ruminating/cursing about some colleague. Try and see their side before communicating with them. Think Win-Win before talking to them. If you can do that you will definitely be able to take care of Tact. 

Don’t forget to share your views in comments!


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