Tact is the ability to sensitively and skillfully handle a situation or conversation so as to avoid giving offense. It involves being diplomatic, tactful, and diplomatic in your interactions with others. It is an important skill to have in many aspects of life, including in personal relationships and in the workplace. The following are some examples of tact.
Poor tact is strongly associated with individuals who bluntly state their opinions without regard to the feelings of others. Even where these opinions are based on truths, such individuals may seriously damage their chances of positive relationships. For example, a relative who bluntly and unkindly points out that you have gained weight.
There is a fine line between poor tact and bullying — particularly regarding children. For example, a teacher who announces to the entire class in a mocking way that a particular student had the lowest score in the class.
Discretion is the ability to hold back information that is likely to be hurtful, impolite or unhelpful. For example, avoiding a topic that is likely to be sensitive or embarrassing to someone.
The ability to keep secret information that has been divulged in confidence or information that is private in nature. For example, if someone tells you they have romantic feelings for someone — this can be reasonably assumed to be confidential.
The ability to say things that aren’t strictly true in order to help others. For example, a teacher who compliments a student on subpar work in order to try to help build their confidence.
Grey lies are untrue statements that are ethically debatable. For example, if a severely overweight friend asks you if you think they are overweight — it will hurt their feelings to say yes but it may not help them to pretend that they are a healthy weight. In this case, it would really depend on your relationship and the situation such that the best response is debatable.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to read the emotion behind things and to respond appropriately. For example, a friend who is asking for criticism from you may really be looking for support and reassurance as opposed to a list of things they need to improve.
The ability to read social situations such as office politics. For example, an executive who doesn’t like being contradicted in front of a political foe who will openly accept criticism at all other times. In this case, tact may call for deferring criticism to an opportune time.
The ability to build relationships with people from different backgrounds from your own. This requires careful tact whereby you don’t make unfair assumptions about people or their culture.
Treating people and the things they care about with respect. For example, greeting your neighbors and their guests with a friendly demeanor.
Saving face is the practice of actively helping others to avoid embarrassment. For example, delivering criticism indirectly and kindly when correcting the mistakes of others.
Framing communication in a way that is likely to be well received. For example, constructive criticism whereby you point to positive things to soften negative feedback.
A nudge is the process of gently influencing others. This can be contrasted with a lack of tack whereby an individual states their opinion as fact and demands that others immediately agree.
Tact benefits from coolness whereby you aren’t overly serious about everything such that you don’t politicize and dramatize. For example, not becoming intensely emotional when you discover that others have different opinions from your own.
It is possible to have perfect tact in normal situations but then completely lose it in an emotional situation such as a confrontation. As such, personal resilience whereby you don’t lose your composure under stress is an element of tact.