“Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.”—Sir Isaac Newton
Miscommunications are often the source of a lot of conflicts between people. It could be strangers you just met, or a person from the other side of the world commenting on the same thing you are commenting on online. Sometimes, it’s your friends or coworkers or clients, or it could even be the people you’ve known and loved for the longest time. Miscommunications happen. A lot. Because a lot of the time, we are careless with our words.
We see that everywhere. An example we might be most familiar with is online. Sometimes we react to a post we see on social media and post a comment. Then the miscommunication sets in. People start reacting to it, and suddenly you go from someone just scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter 2 minutes ago to this horrible person who shouldn’t exist.
Sometimes it is because we worded our post wrong. Other times, it is because they interpreted it incorrectly.
And then the online keyboard war begins.
Sometimes it is as easy as a flippant comment during an amicable conversation. Other times, it is just a poorly timed joke to “build rapport” at work or with friends and family.
But our words, when chosen carelessly, can cause conflict.
Tact is the art of saying (and doing) the right things at the right moment. And it takes a lot of sensitivity, good listening skills, and empathy to pull off.
There are times, though, that even if we choose our words with care, some people will find them offensive. Maybe because they don’t agree with your beliefs. Maybe it is the manner in which you delivered it.
There’s no way for us to go through life without ever offending anyone. We always will. That’s just how it is. But what I want to say today is how to avoid those conflicts that can be avoided by keeping in mind this simple principle: It’s not just what you say... It’s also how you say it.
We will always have people who don’t agree with our views and values, and that is okay. You have the option to walk away from the conversation. Or you can use it as an opportunity to start a worthwhile discussion where you both walk away at the end, learning something new.
We just need to figure out how to disagree without being disagreeable or insensitive.
You see that a lot during an argument: friction arises when we respond to things out of emotion, without tact. It is human nature to feel things. But we are also blessed with the ability to pause and think something over before responding. I talked to Wesley Donehue for an interview recently, and he said, “We all need to learn how to chill out and figure out how to speak our truth without being an asshole.”
Before posting online, a good litmus test would be to ask yourself, “is this something I would say to this person’s face?” before clicking "post" or "send."
If it is a face-to-face conversation, it could be something as simple as “Can I have a minute to think about this?” Or maybe pause, be silent and go “hmm...” to buy yourself some time and examine what you are about to say.
Of course, we won’t always have that pause privilege. Things get heated, and we tend to be defensive. Those are the moments we have to hit the breaks and say, “Okay, we’re both not thinking clearly. Maybe we can take a break to cool our heads and gather our thoughts before coming back to discuss this again, hopefully in a more composed manner.”
There are many ways to communicate—and even to argue—in a healthy and constructive manner. But we really need to pay attention to what we say and how we say it in order for our words to stop sabotaging our success.
Let’s all learn to listen more, be empathetic, think before we speak, and speak with tact and kindness.
Thank you for reading A Brilliant Tribe.