The art of tact

The art of tact

“Cultivate tact, it is the mark of culture and the lubricant of human relationships,” wrote Baltasar Gracian, Spanish writer and Jesuit priest. Cultured people almost always use tact in their speech and interactions with others, which brings about cordiality and bonhomie.

The reverse is true of the uncultured lot who are, more often than not, brutally blunt in their conversations and dealings resulting in animosity and hatred.

A sultan once called one of his seers and asked how long he would live. “Sire,” said the seer, “you will live to see all of your sons dead.” The sultan flew into a rage and handed the prophet over to his guards for execution. Then he called for a second seer and asked the same question.

“Sire,” said the prophet, “I see you blessed with long life, so long that you will outlive all your family.” The sultan was delighted and rewarded the seer with gold and silver.
Both prophets knew the truth, but one had tact, the other did not. As a thinker points out, “Tact is kindness with brains. It’s a way of putting your best foot forward without stepping on anyone’s toes.”

Adopting tact means using diplomacy instead of being laconic, adopting a pleasant tone in the place of a harsh one and choosing to appear kind rather than aggressive. Through the course of a day, one is confronted with fractious bosses, ill-mannered colleagues, bad-tempered customers, insolent suppliers, impudent workers, discourteous neighbours, demanding family members and impertinent relatives, making every individual a victim of annoyance and irritability.

Yet, choosing to respond with pleasing language and tactfully loaded words, will balm the pain resulting from the unpleasantness of dealing with such disagreeable

Tact, which stems from the Latin word ‘tactus’, meaning touch, is a delicate, sensitive touch that works with human nature rather than against it. Tact is also one of the strongest arsenals of all accomplished leaders. In using it, these successful leaders see others as they wish to be seen, thereby effectively leading and motivating their followers.

Tact indeed takes a very vital place in good inter-personal relations as it masks resentments and sugars the bitter pill of direct criticism. A new minister once used tact with a member of the congregation who presented him with a pie to take home at the reception held to welcome him. As the pie turned out to be inedible the minister’s wife reluctantly put it in the garbage.

The following Sunday, the woman who baked the pie approached the minister after the service and he felt compelled to make some comment. “Thank you for being so kind and thoughtful last week,” he said, “a pie like that never lasts long at our house!”