Speak Your Mind Tactfully and Authentically

Communications consultant MJ JENNINGS shares tips on how to be authentically tactful.

Being tactful is about showing that you respect the other person’s perception. It is a conversation style that helps you get your needs met while caring about the impact your message has on people.

Tact is about responding with the skills of sensitivity rather than reacting, or speaking too soon. The trick is to first gauge who, what, when and where to respond, then how to apply the most tactful response.

I use these steps to check my own emotions before responding. First, think of a situation where you would like to be more tactful and have a meaningful conversation. Now, observe your emotions and the intensity you are experiencing about the situation.

All you have to do is pause and THINK:

  • Is it True? Can you identify the facts of the situation? Be specific. This helps you avoid misinterpreting situations and making subjective judgements.
  • Is it Helpful? Will this help you deal with this person in the future?
  • Is it Inspiring? Can you deliver a message as a positive learning experience for the other person?
  • Is it Necessary? Will your message ensure the person will have complete understanding?
  • Is it Kind? Are you coming from a place of kindness and care for all parties?

Once you have done your THINK-ing, prepare your response to the other person. Don’t blame, judge, accuse or assume you know what is motivating the other person. Keep your body language neutral to reflect the most respectful interpretation of the events.

Common Situations: Scripts and Tips

Customise these to your own situation, and practise out loud with another person. Be sure to make your words fit the THINK-TACT models. Good luck!

Negotiating timelines – If your boss asks you to take on another project, but you don’t have any more time on your hands, you can say: “Thank you so much for thinking of me. Right now, I’m still wrapping up those two projects you asked me about and I won’t be able to take on the extra work immediately. When do you need this by? Perhaps we could work out an alternative solution?”

Avoiding gossip or negativity – Ask the person nicely to stop and say: “I’m really not interested in gossiping about our team mates” or “I’d prefer we did not talk negatively about others we need to work closely with.” If the person persists, then just excuse yourself and say you need to get back to work! Make it appear unrelated to the chat at hand.

How to prepare TACT-ful scripts:

T - THINK (see above): Pause, breathe, then speak with authenticity and clarity.

A - Active listening: Observe body language and the deeper messages that show up.

C - Control your emotions: Ensure you lower your voice, keep emotions neutral, and breathe easy.

T - Timing of delivery: Assess if this is the right time. Here and now, or will later be better?

To bring your THINK-ing to another level, here are two reminders. Active listening helps you gauge the other person’s level of involvement in the content or intention of your message. If you can see that your feedback is not helping or they are becoming upset, gracefully end the conversation and pick it up later. Next, practise, practise, practise – so keep the scripts at the “front of your mind” for the next time a situation arises and when you can express your needs with the most respectful delivery.

To help people learn to be more tactful, I like to find out their skill level and style, and discuss what is happening or not happening in situations where they are left feeling uncomfortable as a result of things said or not said. We work on real examples – like all communication skills, learning to be tactful needs practice using real-life situations. The best way is to rehearse together the tactful response, because one script does not fit all situations.


MJ Jennings is Director (Training & Executive Coaching) at Active Communication. She mentors teams and individuals in the art of effective presentation and communication skills, and corporate behaviour and performance. She has worked in Hong Kong and Singapore for 17 years.

  • POSTED ON
    Nov 26, 2014
  • TEXT BY
    MJ Jennings
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