It’s always an advantage to be more talented and better informed than other people, but it’s rarely in your best interest to tell them so. As critical to your success as talent is, when dealing with people, diplomacy and tact can be even more important.
At a dinner party or cocktail gathering, when someone starts spouting off on something that you know more about than they do, don’t always feel that have to set the record straight.
Whether you’ve made more money in the stock market, closed a bigger deal, solved a more difficult problem or simply had a more serious case of the mumps than someone is describing, it’s best to just keep quiet unless you’re specifically asked about your experiences. Even then, you should keep your comments short, to the point and non-condescending, letting other people have their say without seeming to upstage them.
More enemies are made by what we say (and how we say it) than are friends made by what we do. When diplomacy and tact are called for, words need to be chosen carefully and tone of voice has to be controlled.
You cannot be diplomatic and tactful when you’re being rude. When you’re rude you’re telling people they don’t matter; when you’re nice to people you’re telling them that they do. Neither is being miserable or resentful very tactful. Beating others at politeness is always a diplomatic victory.
Sometimes people inadvertently become undiplomatic and completely lacking in tact. Be careful that what you think of as being frank and candid isn’t really just thoughtless and cruel. The trouble with what is characterized as being “straight from the heart” is that it sometimes bypasses the brain. Support your beliefs by all means, but never ridicule other people’s.
In some situations silence is often the best comment; if something “goes without saying,” let it. Silence is also sometimes the only satisfactory substitute for knowledge; if you don’t know what you’re talking about it’s always better to keep quiet. Most people know how to say nothing; but the effective diplomat knows when to say nothing.
One of the times when your diplomacy and tact need to be carefully exercised is when you have to say “no” to someone. Deceit is not a synonym for tact, so a civil “no” accompanied by a gentle explanation is always better than an insincere “yes” that you have no intention of living up to. For example, a diplomatic way to say “no” to something you don’t want to do is to say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t commit to that because there are some other things that I simply have to tend to instead.”
A great test of diplomacy and tact is to know how to do something really well and, without comment, watch someone else doing it in an ineffective manner. As long as the result is going to be the same it’s not worth hurting someone’s feelings, and perhaps damaging a relationship, by jumping in and demonstrating your superior talent.
But of course there are times when criticism is necessary. For example, if you observe an employee doing something in an inefficient manner you should always show that person the better way to do it; or if someone is endangering themselves or others by their behaviour you should always step in. People who don’t criticize when they should are as wrong as those who never give praise.
The mistake that a lot of people make when they have to criticize someone is thinking that this is the time to set aside diplomacy and tact. If you want the criticism to be effective nothing could be further from the truth. When you have to criticize someone is precisely the time when you should be as diplomatic and tactful as possible. A good rule of thumb is that if it will hurt you to criticize someone, you’ll probably do it right; but if you’re looking forward to it, don’t start your tongue until you get your diplomacy and tact gears engaged. When it comes to criticism, use your head to criticize yourself, your heart to criticize others.
If you are a regular bridge player you will have had lots of opportunities to observe fruitless criticism. I learned first-hand while playing bridge that when offering criticism we should always refer to the fault, not the person. After my partner had made a bid that cost us a lot of points I blurted out, “You know that was a really stupid bid.” What my partner heard was, “You’re really stupid!” The enjoyment quickly went out of the game. On the other hand, if I had calmly said, “There’s another bid that might have been better there,” everyone would have continued to enjoy the game and my partner would actually have learned something. Remember, too, that there are times to blink as well as to see; being diplomatic and tactful sometimes merely consists of knowing what to overlook. Before you embark on criticism be sure it really is necessary and will have constructive results. In a fun bridge game advice should never be given unless it’s asked for; I should have just kept quiet.
Don’t let anyone hear your criticism of them second-hand. If you need to discuss a particular situation with someone else, don’t do so until you’ve met with the person who will be the subject of your criticism and let him or her know what the situation is. Whenever possible your criticism should be delivered in person and in private. Face to face criticism is always more effective than an email, telephone call or memo; and you will rarely be effective when you criticize someone in front of others.
One way to help keep your criticism constructive is to know exactly what alternative you’re going to suggest before you begin to deliver criticism of someone else’s actions. Also be sure that all your comments are necessary; when something you’d really like to say can’t possibly do any good, don’t say it.
Criticism, even when it’s not intended to be, can be a humiliating experience for the recipient. The next time you have to criticize someone, before doing so take a moment to remember the last time that you were criticized and how you felt.
There are three important points to remember when you are on the receiving end of criticism:
1) Criticism from a wise person beats praise from a fool.
2) Never resent criticism; if it’s not justified you can ignore it, and if it is justified you can learn from it.
3)When someone seems to be unreasonably criticizing you he may just be mad at himself.