How to Use Diplomacy and Tact to Create Powerful Communication

Evelyne Brown

What do you do when a coworker disagrees with you?

How do you approach a negotiation in which you must meet specific objectives?

What should you say to a customer who appears to be upset or angry?

Every job and every relationship requires communication. Communication is a complex process that happens in a split second or at the very moment a person decides to send a message – whether verbally or in writing. We all have natural, human responses to situations and other people. But do those reactions always result in the best outcome? The answer is that our gut reactions or initial responses do not always address situations or other people in the most appropriate way possible, especially when strong emotional reactions are felt, which means the underlying issue or need may go unresolved. Poor communication can also jeopardize important relationships and even a person’s professional reputation.

There is a communication approach that, when used, is a powerful tool for repairing and/or building productive interactions and relationships, as well as creating positive outcomes. Diplomacy and tact are terms used to describe this type of communication. It is a combination of communicating thoughtfully and being aware of the other person or persons involved. It is also a method that anyone can learn with practice and self-awareness while communicating with others. Once a person understands how this approach can transform the communication process, they will quickly realize that there are many situations that require the use of both – in order to reach mutually agreeable and satisfying outcomes.

What is the Role of Diplomacy and Tact?

Everyone has unconscious biases that influence how they communicate. These biases create internalized filters, which can shape how another person or group of people is perceived, as well as how the message is communicated. That may not be a problem in most interactions, unless the other person is a coworker or a customer, in which case the biases have created negative perceptions of the other person. This can result in ineffective and inappropriate forms of communication. For example, if you dislike a coworker for whatever reason, you may not always choose to communicate thoughtfully or collaboratively.

Another reason for the importance of thoughtful communication is the widespread use of email as a primary mode of communication with others. When you can’t see who you’re communicating with, it’s easy to lose sight of the human element of interacting with them. Working with others is essential in your career, and this is an approach that does not come naturally to everyone, especially those with a demanding personality. Many jobs require employees to be courteous and polite, especially when dealing with external customers, while dealing with demanding and often stressful situations. It can be difficult to communicate and resolve issues or needs in person, and it can be even more difficult when email is the primary mode of communication.

What is the difference between diplomacy and tact?

Diplomacy has French origins and refers to a diplomat’s ability to negotiate or collaborate with others. Diplomacy entails reaching an agreement, being careful about the words one uses or choosing words that are not biased or inflammatory, demonstrating respect for the other person or persons, knowing how to evaluate situations appropriately, and being approachable.

The term tact has Latin origins and refers to a sense of touch, which can mean developing a well-honed sense of others’ perspectives and dispositions while interacting with them. Tact refers to a person’s ability to hold back emotional reactions, to have control, to develop measured responses, to be rational rather than emotional, to know what is an appropriate response, to empathize with others, and to have compassion.

Diplomacy and tact work together to create an overall attitude of professionalism, a positive image, and a reputation for cooperation. This is especially important for a person’s career because negative interactions are remembered for a long time, which leads to ineffective working relationships. Relationships can be repaired and trust restored through diplomacy and tact. It is a strategy for encouraging cooperation and collaboration with others. This is especially important for leaders, who must be able to persuade others to contribute to the achievement of organizational goals. This is a powerful form of communication that encourages both meaningful and productive exchanges.

The Communication Methodology

The communication process appears to be fairly simple; the sender has a message to communicate with the receiver. While it happens quickly, through spoken or written words, there is a lot more to it. Both the sender and the receiver rely on their perceptions and senses to develop the message before sending it or to interpret the message after it has been received. If the communication takes place in person, there is an opportunity to explain the message’s meaning and clarify any points that may have been unclear or misinterpreted. Face-to-face communication includes eye contact and body language, both of which influence the message. It allows you to observe how the other person reacts or responds. While the best outcome is not always guaranteed, the sender and receiver have the ability to interact, which electronic communication lacks.

Electronic communication relies on the use of words to convey a message, and almost everyone has probably received an email that they thought was short, abrupt, or inappropriate – and they are relying on their perception of the message’s tone and meaning. Once an email is sent, it is usually not retrievable, and the absence of someone to help explain its meaning creates a potential barrier. If the receiver has a negative reaction, he or she may respond in kind or choose not to seek further clarification, which is how communication breakdowns occur.

Techniques for Creating Effective Communication

The following scenarios can help to demonstrate how to use diplomacy and tact.

Difficult Conversations and Conflicts: Emotions are likely to be running high at this time. In these situations, it is critical to keep your emotions in check, to listen to the other person, to acknowledge their feelings rather than dismiss their point of view, to be sensitive to their needs rather than forceful, and to first seek common ground as a means of reducing resistance. It is difficult to move from a conflict to a resolution, and it must be done in stages, first seeking to understand the other person’s point of view and then working towards a rational rather than emotional viewpoint.

Challenging or Important Negotiations: In these situations, it can be easy to focus on what you need to accomplish and not consider the other party involved, in order to create a forceful attitude or disposition. It is critical to first break the ice, build rapport, find common ground, and then seek a mutual understanding of each party’s needs. It can be beneficial to convert your demands into requests in order to approach the negotiations in a collaborative manner – this is what is referred to as reaching a win/win outcome.

Responding to or Communicating by Email: If you need to send a work-related email, one of the best methods is to first write a draft of what you want to communicate. This will assist you in maintaining control of the message’s tone while managing the mechanics. A message with numerous spelling, grammar, or other mechanical errors can reflect poorly on you and/or your employer. The choice of words becomes critical, and this is where diplomacy and tact come into play. More importantly, many people send important messages via email when a phone call or personal visit would be far more effective. If a message is sent and misinterpreted, the relationship may or may not be easily repaired.

Giving Critical Feedback: Diplomacy and tact are required to increase the likelihood that the other person will be receptive to the feedback provided. As a teacher, I’ve discovered this to be especially true. I’ve always favored the sandwich approach, which begins on a positive note, addresses a developmental issue, and then concludes on a positive note. The goal is to be cooperative rather than aggressive, and to collaborate with the students rather than demand their compliance. Students are much more receptive to this approach, especially online students who are not present to interact with and explain what was written to them.

Delivering bad news and responding to others who are not tactful are two other scenarios in which diplomacy and tact are required. It is critical to be mindful of the words you use in all situations, especially when dealing with sensitive issues or discussions. You should find ways to work with the other person, lessen their resistance, acknowledge their point of view, and be perceived as approachable and willing to collaborate. One-way communication, or sending a message without considering how the other party will receive and interpret it, is rarely an effective strategy – especially on the job. If you want to communicate meaningfully while also establishing a reputation as someone who is even-tempered and easy to work with, use diplomacy and tact – and you will discover that your communication becomes transformed and much more effective.