“Tact is an ability to live in the midst of ugliness without getting ugly.” –Debasish Mridha
What’s Your TACT-ometer Reading?
A tachometer in a car measures the rotation of the crankshaft. A TACT-ometer in a leader measures the rotation of the crankiness or degree of rudeness they reveal and inspire in others. Leaders everywhere would be wise to make sure their TACT-ometer is functioning well—or take it in for a tune-up.
In a manual transmission, the tachometer serves a significant role for the vehicle’s engine maintenance. It helps the driver select an appropriate gear for driving conditions. It denotes the maximum safe range for rotation speeds, which when exceeded are indicated in red. When a driver operates the car while the tachometer reads in the red areas, it’s called redlining the engine. Prolonged extreme redlining in the tachometer may cause less than optimum performance that could cause excessive wear and tear or permanent damage to the vehicle’s engine (And in case you were wondering if I knew all this before, I didn’t. Thank you, Wikipedia.)
A TACT-ometer is a gauge for your mouth. It serves a significant role for your team’s morale maintenance. It helps the speaker select appropriate words for working conditions. It denotes the maximum safe range for lack of tact, which when exceeded leaves the speaker’s recipient red with embarrassment (or rage). When a speaker regularly operates in the red zone, I call it redlining the team. Prolonged extreme tactlessness or extreme tact may cause less than optimum communication and conflict that could cause excessive wear or permanent damage to relationships. (Sadly, I learned this concept through experience, not Wikipedia.)
“Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” –Isaac Newton
I use the Workplace Big 5 Profile 4.0™ Assessments to help my clients assess their performance on the TACT-ometer. The Workplace Big 5 Profile stimulates changes in self-awareness and identifies ways to maximize your natural talents in a manner that works with your natural energy levels.
Some people who score in the 0 to 35 range don’t believe they lack tact. In fact, the harshest person you know may think that he or she is just being direct and even kind because telling the absolute truth is the right thing to do. Who can argue that much of the time telling the absolute truth is the right thing to do?
“Tact is the ability to step on a man’s toes without messing up the shine on his shoes.” –Harry Truman
And who can argue that there are times when it isn’t?
The definition of tact can vary depending on the area where you live. Take, for instance, the different regions of the U.S. In one part of the country, being direct (up to and including the point of being blunt) is not only accepted but also expected. In another region, extreme politeness is the norm. These expectations tend to stay with you even when you leave the area you consider “normal.” When people with different definitions of tact work together, office tension is often the result.
Knowing your natural tendencies regarding tact could help you to choose more consciously what you say and how you say it—i.e., to manage your mouth strategically. I advise my clients to use I-messages. I-messages create responses that feel less accusatory. They demonstrate more tact when used correctly. Unlike You-messages, (e.g. “you always interrupt” or “why don’t you just…?”) I-messages focus on the feelings of the speaker rather than the person they are addressing. They provide a tactful way to deliver a direct response.
The Right Words Matter
When it comes to how you communicate, let’s face it: The right words matter!
Which hat would you want to help find?
In other words, the I-message can be an invaluable way to get the TACT-ometer out of the red.
I advise leaders to tune up their feedback with I-messages no matter where they land on the TACT-ometer. Enhancing your tact in communication sends your team speeding down the highway, firing on all four cylinders of harmony, productivity, motivation, and employee engagement.
“Tact: the ability to describe others as they see themselves.” –Abraham Lincoln
Where does your TACT-ometer operate?
“Tact in audacity is knowing how far you can go without going too far.” –Jean Cocteau