How to Communicate With Tact and Diplomacy

Effective communication is the number one sought after skill by hirers when selecting new candidates. Being able to demonstrate an ability to communicate effectively, means more than inter departmental interacting. There are times when we are faced with needing to communicate sensitive information with difficult people, in equally difficult circumstances. Apart from sparing the other person´s blushes and lessening their anxiety, deploying tactful communications speaks volumes for your character and integrity. Irrespective of the type of communication, it is essential to use tact and diplomacy.

How to communicate with tact and diplomacy

Although there are many more, I have identified 6 situations below that require a tactful communicative approach.

Letting people Go

This is never easy to do and these situations are often fraught with emotions and anxiety levels are high. It is difficult to do, however, to become skilled in the art of communication, it is something that needs to be learned

Separate the emotion from the situation an explain clearly why this is happening. It´s important to be respectful but don´t sugar coat things or you won´t get your point across. Diplomatic honesty is the best policy here.

They may question your decision, so you need to be able to explain your decision in a calm and rational manner. Maybe it was not your decision and you are solely the vessel for carrying the bad news. If this is the case, you need all the information you can get about the situation so that you can deal with it accordingly and communicate effectively.

Giving Feedback

Remember to sandwich the negative between two positives. The aim is to get the other person leaving the room feeling positive about working on the action points you have discussed. With the negative feedback, remember to be constructive, factual and tactful in your delivery. Negative feedback forms a critical part of development but it needs to be done in the correct manner and with only 2 or 3 points to work on. All your tact and diplomacy will be wasted by giving someone an A4 sheet of weak points to work on. They key is to make your point without making an enemy.

How to give constructive feedback

Declining Requests

Maybe you can´t attend the function because you are busy. Maybe you don´t want to attend the function because you couldn´t think of anything worse than being in this particular situation.

If you just say ´no, I’m busy´ it may come across as ungrateful or insensitive

Try instead:

Thank you so much for inviting me, it sounds like it will be a fun time. Unfortunately, my schedule is hectic at the moment as we are working on some new training initiatives. Hopefully when we have completed and rolled out the training I will be able to attend the next one.

Deflecting Gossip

I´ve yet to find an instance of tactful gossip. It damages and destroys. There´s nothing tactful about that whatsoever. Don´t add fuel to the fire by joining in the conversation. However, you can bring to their attention the potential damages of gossip mongering and urge them to be more tactful in the future. Remind them that gossip very rarely deals with facts. You don´t want your team to be responsible for the downfall of someone else by spreading rumours.

Let them know that you want them to stop gossip mongering and concentrate on providing a positive contribution to the team. They may well reply with… “it´s just between us. No one else will know.” Gossip is very rarely isolated and if someone is talking about things with you, they will certainly talk about it with others.

Gossip is a difficult thing to stop and you may never fully achieve that. However, you can be tactfully direct and voice your dissatisfaction, ensuring that they know that people should be more tactful and discreet when discussing people or situations they are more than likely not fully informed on.

“Three people may keep a secret, as long as two of them are dead.” Benjamin Franklin

How to control gossip

Handling Disagreements

Often there is conflict in the team because someone thinks that someone else is being favoured and given the nicer tasks. It is during  these conflicts that you are likely to encounter a number of barriers to effective communication. Explain with tact that the reason you chose this person was because they have had experience in this before. However, you will arrange for them to shadow them so that everyone is working to the same standards. Furthermore, suggesting another project that you would like them to get involved in, such as reorganising the company induction program, as they have voiced some super ideas on the integration of new employees, will demonstrate that you have belief in their abilities also.

You can´t please everyone and indeed, it´s not your job to do so but you if you are going to discuss why someone was chosen for a task or project over someone else, do it tactfully.

Mixed Skill and Seniority Levels

This could be a mixed skill level or even a difference in organisational ranking.

Below is a scenario I have been faced with on many occasions.

You are giving a presentation and there is one manager there with a group of people below them. They are clearly miffed about having to attend. You can quietly ask at a break if you could draw on some of their experience and is it ok to ask them some questions so that the junior people can draw on their strengths. This should create some buy in and help them save face.

You will get much better results with this approach than with the “showing them who´s in control” approach. Attempting to assert your authority will only make you lose focus on your presentation and lead to resentment from both parties. It´s a lose lose situation.

Some Final Thoughts

Being tactful in your communications means being aware of the needs of others. You don´t have to lie. In fact, don´t! It just defeats the purpose and you will lose all credibility. We don´t want to gloss over the cracks and pretend that we can cover up errors and shortfalls. We don´t want to “just give it to them straight” and hang the consequences. We want to get to the root of the problem and deal with the issue from the inside out. This may take a lot of delving into unchartered questioning and you may need to be direct on one hand while maintaining sensitivity on the other.

My experience is that most people want to be told the truth. Even though this truth may be sometimes a little embarrassing. It´s our job to make sure to deliver the truth but in such a way that the other person doesn´t lose face, however embarrassing it is for you to deliver.

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