Skip to content

Tips to Tact

One of the greatest skills you can master is tactfulness.

Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can crush you.

My father, whose life wisdom inspired my Sid’s Sense series, once said, “Honesty is the best swindle.”  An oxymoron, the statement is bewildering. Honesty is good. To swindle, meaning deceive, is not good. If his statement is true, it proves how powerful being honest can be. Especially today when deception is around every corner preying on the innocent. Hard to tell fact from fiction anymore. Precisely why being honest could be considered a “tactic” by today’s standards.

I remember one of my favorite funny movies, Liar Liar, with Jim Carrey. Honesty in its raw form can be harsh, rough, even brutal. Honesty with tact is sincerity.

Sincerity is to honesty as smooth stone is to rock.  Like adding polish to a shoe. It doesn’t change the shoe, only the look of it. And so it is for our words.

Sincerity is the highest of virtues. Combining truth with peace, genuineness with good will. We may be born honest, but we learn sincerity.

Remember these 5 tips to polish your honesty with tact.

1)  Listen.

Tactful honestly begins with listening. If you speak too quickly you may be perceived as judgmental. Don’t give your opinion until you understand the facts of the situation. When someone feels like he’s been heard, he will be more receptive.

2)  Start with the positive.

Offer a genuine complement or find something good in the situation. There is always something positive no matter how dire the circumstances. This frames your honesty in a positive light. It opens the mind of the listener that all is not gloom and doom. Even is someone mishandled a situation, you can point out the fact that he was passionate enough to act, assertive enough to try something even if it wasn’t the best choice.

3)  Get to the point.

To be honest, make direct statements and then follow-up. For example, the honest statement: “I am not ok with you showing up 15 minutes late for our morning run.” Now the follow-up statement: “I do understand that you have children that distract you and that makes it difficult for you to be on time.”

You can show understanding without backtracking from your honest statement. For instance, in the example above, if I were to say, “Don’t worry about it” after making the statement about the late arrival, I would be defeating the purpose of speaking honestly in the first place.

Don’t be wishy washy. It leads to evasiveness and stress. State the honest fact and then follow up with empathy statements that don’t undermine your sincere expression of how you feel.

Tactful straightforwardness is necessary to resolve interpersonal conflict. It is best when others know exactly where you stand. This helps avoid misinterpretation and guessing games that lead to more conflict.

4)  Stick with specific facts.

Leave out descriptive words. Avoid adjectives and adverbs. They inflame, characterize, and pass judgement. If you feel the need to use adjectives to communicate the truth, you should re-visit the facts and your motives.

“I felt betrayed that you didn’t invite me to the party this weekend” is much different than “How could you be so callous and hurtful and expect that I would be clueless about the party this weekend?”

Let’s say a co-worker on your team did a poor job on a project and your disgruntled boss asked you what happened. You can state the honest facts of what occurred without using descriptive terms that suggest motive or provide unnecessary analysis.

5)  Be relatable.

Whenever possible, relate your own experiences which shows understanding and increases your credibility.

A friend of mine was having problems with her son not making friends in school. It was apparent her mission was to try and fix the situation by trying to force friendships that weren’t happening naturally.  The boy, however, wasn’t unhappy.

Tactfully I said, “I know it worries you that Johnny isn’t being very social. I feel the same way with my daughter sometimes. Then I have to ask myself if it’s more my issue or hers. Have you given that some thought?”

By turning the honest question on yourself, you help others feel less alone. Honesty is less threatening when you’re willing to show your own vulnerabilities.

There is a difference between being honest and blowing off steam. When you take your negativity out on someone else, you are blowing steam in the wrong direction. Everyone needs to vent from time to time. No rules. Just let it rip. We’re human.

Just don’t confuse that need with tactful candor in helping others or resolving conflict. To be tactful you have to be in control of your emotions.

Honesty may be the best swindle but tact is the intelligence of the heart.

"Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy." Isaac Newton


Subscribe to FITskitz!


  1. Linda Glass #

    REALLY good! I can certainly see that we were raised by the same father (and mother). Written so eloquently too!!!

    August 22, 2012
    • fitskitz

      I had to be tactful in writing a post about being tactful! Glad to know my biggest fans think I pulled it off. Whew!

      August 23, 2012
  2. DonnaK #

    Having had three generations of Boy Scouts around me, what you are saying may just be reflected within the following: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. I am sure your Dad, Chieftan Charno, Dick Harrington and the entire Bartle family would agree. Loved the way you put good, clean living into straight-forward words.

    August 23, 2012
  3. DonnaK #

    …and with another thought, here is a quote from Mother Theresa which will coincide with what you are saying: “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” We all have so much to learn with this emotion of kindness and graciousness. Thanks again, Susan. I certainly enjoy and learn from your daily blog.

    August 23, 2012
    • fitskitz

      Donna- you may have missed YOUR calling:)! Your comments are exquisite, interesting and right on!

      August 23, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The 5 Directives of Friendly Debate | fitskitz
  2. Fatso! | fitskitz

Comments are closed.