The Art of Being Tactful

At Xavier’s, I was member of a group called AICUF (All India Catholic University Federation) that organises various activities, keeping three objectives: Social Outreach, Personality Development, and Spiritual Growth. And as part of the core organising team, we had a session on feedback to help us improve and grow. I smiled when I saw “I like that you are brutally honest” in the positives on my sheet.

That got me thinking, not everyone will appreciate my straightforward nature and I realised at times I may come across as brash and harsh. Yes, being honest will always be better than sugar-coating your messages, especially if that honesty is crucial to making the other person better at what they’re doing. But even honesty needs to be tempered with tact.

Tact and diplomacy are skills centred around an understanding of other people and being sensitive to their opinions, beliefs, ideas and feelings.

Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy

Isaac Newton

Diplomacy is the art of letting somebody else have your way

David Frost

When I think of tact and diplomacy, I am reminded of this lovely anecdote

A King called three great artists and asked them to make his portrait. There was a big prize for making the best portrait. The King had only one eye. One artist thought that the King may get angry if he showed him with only one eye. So he made a beautiful portrait with two eyes. The second artist thought that the portrait should be completely real and so he sketched the picture with only one eye. The third artist acted intelligently and showed the king with a bow and arrow. An eye was hidden in the posture as the king was aiming to hit the target. 

All the portraits were beautiful but the prize for the best portrait went to the third artist as he had succeeded in artfully making the truth of the King having one eye more appreciable.

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