Communicating Tactfully in the Business World

by Claire Valenty on August 30, 2012

in Business & Office Etiquette

Being tactful toward others

Tact is recognizing the sensitivity in a situation and making sure that your comment is appropriate. It’s also the ability to be assertive without being offensive. When resolving to be more tactful, bear in mind these principles: assess the best time to initiate a communication, listen effectively, think before responding, plan what you’re going to say, and be conscious of your tone.

One part of tactfulness is assessing when it’s the right time to initiate a communication. Although no time is perfect, some are better than others. Two things to consider are events in the other person’s day and the physical setting.

Another part of tactfulness is to listen effectively. To do this, you can follow three guidelines. First, develop awareness about the other person. Second, don’t compete with the other person in the conversation. And finally, if you ask a question, be sensitive to the answers.

It’s also important to think before responding. Sometimes you might be tempted to blurt out whatever comes to mind – and you’ve probably done this at some point. If so, you’re aware of how it affects your credibility. In thinking about what you’re going to say, you should empathize with the other person and consider the outcome you want from the communication. You should also aim to be clear, complete, and courteous in your communication.

Communicating with tact

To communicate tactfully, you must consider the other person’s feelings. However, you must also be aware of your expectations of the communication. One way to do this is to plan what you’re going to say. Being unprepared will make an already difficult situation worse. All your efforts to understand the other person must be reflected in the words used. Even in a difficult situation, a communication delivered with positive words is easier to receive.

When planning what you’re going to say, there are some important guidelines. You need to demonstrate empathy; recognize the potential for misinterpretation; use polite, positive language; get rid of personal issues; and focus on the key issue.

The final element in being tactful is to be conscious of your tone. Tone is essentially the way you say something – the sound or modulation of your voice. The tone used can have more impact than what’s said. For instance, a stable, well-modulated, conversational tone is persuasive, but not intimidating, whereas a quiet monotone lacks conviction and won’t convince others.

There are three elements to consider when trying to find the right tone. The vocal tone relates to the voice’s pitch. Generally, a lower pitch is more persuasive than a higher pitch. The inflection relates to the emphasis placed on certain syllables or the highs and lows in your voice. Finally, volume is a powerful tool that should be controlled and used effectively. While some people command attention by speaking quietly, others seek to overpower through sheer loudness.

The way your words are delivered is as important as the words themselves. The inflection can also alter the meaning of a word. In fact, the same words can have many different meanings, depending on where the emphasis is placed.

In considering the tones most appropriate for tactful conversation, you may have identified a calm tone. A friendly tone is also appropriate, as well as a confident tone. While it’s true that your tone should reflect the circumstances of the conversation, tactful tones tend to feature these three qualities.

There are certain principles that you can follow to make sure your communication is tactful and diplomatic. First, you should assess when it’s the right time to initiate a communication. This means taking account of the physical location and events in the other person’s day. You should also listen effectively, which includes asking questions to develop your understanding. And think before responding, as opposed to “blurting out” the first thing that enters your head. Another important principle is to plan what you’re going to say. This includes demonstrating empathy, recognizing how your message could be misinterpreted, using polite and positive language, and focusing on the key – rather than any personal – issues. Finally, you should be careful about the tone you use.

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