Diplomacy is the mindset, tact is the strategy.
- As I sat in my colleague Karen's office blind-sided by the unpleasant comment she was making about our colleague Pat, I had several options in how I could pitch my response. One option would be to show a lot of emotion and be obvious about my disapproval with her words, or even ask her to stop. Or I could give her a nervous smile and dismiss her comments with something like, "Now, you can't be that negative about Pat, can you?" Responding with tact has to do with your behavior and a complex balance of several skills.
They include attentive listening, rapport, politeness, and most important, empathy. We need to both build this set of skills and know how best to use them, especially when unexpected or difficult situations happen in the workplace, or for that matter, in any setting. Diplomacy is the situational barometer or the mindset with which we analyze different situations. It's important to understand that both tact and diplomacy may not need to be used in all situations.
Here's an example we've all experienced. You're at the grocery store and you chose to buy one single item. The line is long and it's not customary to cut. However, you politely ask the person in front of you if they wouldn't mind letting you go ahead. This is a situation where you can be polite, but analyzing the people in line, assessing the situation, considering additional tact, and thinking through the diplomatic consequences doesn't count. You want to be pleasant, but you won't be interacting with the people in the grocery line any other time.
Now, contrast that with a different situation. You walk into the kitchen area at work and you run into a heated conversation between three colleagues. You know everyone involved and you have working relationships that could positively or negatively be affected by how tactful and diplomatic you are. In this case, you should use more time to assess the situation, weighing both the information and emotional content of your coworkers at odds.
What will you say? What are the likely consequences to your input? The grocery store line is not the place to practice your tact, aside from being a polite person. The workplace is where all these skills need to come into play. Now, we all hear that soft skills weigh heavily on one's reputation in the workplace, and it's true. A human resource society survey of close to 700 HR professionals and administrators found that 97% of respondents said they would hire an applicant with strong soft skills and weak technical abilities.
This contrasts to only 9% who said they would favor the technical skills and weak interpersonal skill combination. Tact and diplomacy ranked at the 60th percentile of importance after organization and verbal communication skills. In this course, we will discuss both situations where you react to someone else's prompt or face delicate and difficult situations where you have to initiate the conversation.
Behaving tactfully will help you build your reputation and enhance your professional brand. There are benefits to adopting a diplomatic mindset and drawbacks to ignoring it.
- The tact–diplomacy model
- In the workplace: email, face to face, text, and phone
- Timing the message
- Saying no tactfully
- Delivering bad news