Why Tact is a Key Leadership Skill

Tact is a key leadership skill and one of the most underrated traits a manager can have. Have you ever left a meeting with your manager and felt worse than when you walked in? Was the feedback helpful and objectively useful? Then maybe your manager needed some training on how to have more tact.
In a perfect world, your boss would have shared their opinion in a way that was direct and useful, and that took your feelings into account. But, we know that doesn’t always happen.    

What is Tact and Why Does it Matter?

Tact is being able to share your thoughts in a way that considers other people’s feelings and reactions. No one wants to hear they did something wrong, even less if it’s coming from a boss who doesn’t seem to care about how they’re delivering that feedback. Having tact makes people see that you have character, are professional, and mature. All things needed to build a good reputation, which then creates trust and respect. And respected bosses have teams that work smarter and harder for them.

The Benefits of Being a Tactful Leader

So, we know now why it’s important and why tact is a key leadership skill. But, how does tact showcase your leadership traits? Developing your ability to be tactful can help you keep disagreements between your employees to the least amount possible. It also helps them see other points of view during arguments. It’s an important tool to have in your management kit during many situations at work, from negotiations to conflict resolution.

No Tact Makes Your Team Unhappy

On the flip side of that, not having tact can seriously affect your team’s desire to do their job. A boss lacking leadership skills will end up with a less efficient and productive team. And it’s very possible that employees will sooner or later start looking somewhere else for a job where they feel more appreciated. Did you know that a large number of employees will reportedly leave their position due to poor management? Studies have shown it’s one of the top 3 reasons people quit. 

Honest and Tactful Leader Vs Rude and Uncaring Leader

A big part of being tactful is about keeping pointless negativity out of the conversation. Being honest when giving feedback should always go hand in hand with being kind, and so choosing your words carefully is important. In fact, the way feedback is given is almost more important than the feedback itself.

There are a few easy things that can be done to make sure the situation stays neutral, starting with keeping the number of negative words to a minimum. For example, saying “It seems the timeline for this project wasn’t something that worked with your current workload. Let’s talk about how we can fix this for next time” instead of “This project was late and that’s not acceptable”. The key point is the same, but the first option makes sure no one feels hurt.

Not Just About Office Life

Tact also comes down to understanding that people’s work-life doesn’t exist in a bubble. Much of what goes on in someone’s personal life will affect their office life as well. Being empathetic towards them and remembering that it’s not always easy to leave your personal life at the office door will do wonders to help maintain tact during conversations. Employees will be more likely to be open to feedback if they feel like their boss understands they’re more than a simple cog in a machine.

Is Tact as a Key Leadership Skill Enough?

It certainly helps! While tact alone is not enough and a mix of other soft skills are incredibly important; it’s an excellent step towards becoming an effective leader. The good news is that being more tactful can be learnedjust like with most other areas of expertise that make a great boss

So, How Can You be More Tactful? 4 Helpful Tips

  • Listen more than you talk. Aim to speak less than 50% of the time during the conversation, and truly listen. Try not to think of what you’re going to say next and focus on what the person in front of you is communicating.
  • Body language is key. Around 70%-93% of all communication is non-verbal, and developing tact requires lots of that. Maintain eye contact, and relax your body as you speak. Keep a gentle facial expression to encourage open communication. You want this to be a two-way street – not just you monologuing.
  • Keep your cool. Letting your emotions overtake you is a big no-no. It’s very hard to communicate tactfully when your brain is busy being upset or frustrated. Take deep breaths and make sure you’re calm before you start talking. You want to make sure you think about what you want to say next in your head before you say it out loud. If you wouldn’t like someone speaking to you aggressively, why would anyone else?
  • Pick your timing. Your employee just found out someone broke into their car during their lunch break. That’s probably not the best time to tell them they messed up on that report you’d asked them for. Part of being tactful is thinking about the other person’s emotions and changing your approach based on that. Wait for a more neutral moment to communicate what you need to say.    

Related Readings

Professional Leadership Institute (PLI) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in entrepreneurial leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional PLI resources below will be useful:

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