Learn English | A new lesson every week
Book your course now

How to use tact

Average: 3.6 (9 votes)

The time has come to speak of Uncle Len. Those of you with a better than average memory may remember me mentioning him in passing a couple of months ago. Uncle Len is a lawyer, and he sort of warned me that if his name ever appeared in any of my articles, he would sue me so hard that my children’s children’s children would still be paying his children’s children’s children damages long after the two of us were dead and gone.

So I’ve changed his name to protect the innocent – namely, me (and my children’s children’s children).

Uncle Len.. whoops, I mean Patrick... is one of those people who like to think of themselves as straightforward, no-nonsense, direct kind of guys. I like to think of him as rude.

There’s a fine line between the two definitions... and the name of that line is tact. Uncle Patr... Len... is about as tactful as a sheet of notepaper written in red capital letters and tied to an arrow aimed directly between the eyes. He’s the kind of person who says what he thinks without necessarily thinking about what he’s saying. I guess it has something to do with him being a lawyer – he’s watched And Justice For All one time too many, and fancies himself as a bit of an Al Pacino, in court and out. Consider, if you will, the following exchange between Uncle P... Len and his wife, Auntie Lynne, overheard in a boutique one fine Saturday morning...

“Patrick, does this dress make me look fat?”

“No darling, of course it doesn’t! It’s your fat that makes you look fat. You look fat because you are, indeed, fat. Have you ever thought of going on a strict diet, as in never eating again? Ever?”

“Oooh, Patrick! Patrick, Patrick, Patrick! You are rude!”

“No, I’m not. I’m straightforward, no-nonsense and direct. And you, incidentally, are fat”.

All the above delivered in a calm, matter-of-fact voice. Okay, so Auntie Lynne is not exactly on the thin side, in that she makes a beach ball look anorexic, but there are ways and there are ways. There’s nothing wrong with being honest, granted, but the trick with being honest is that you should still have friends, or at least people who don’t want to club you to death with a blunt object, after the honesty.

It’s all about tact. It’s about the way you say what you say. It’s the difference between a plate of raw bloody dead cow with the unborn child of a chicken drowned in hot animal fat... and a juicy, tender fillet steak, rare, served with a fried egg, sunny-side-up. Which would you rather be presented with at a restaurant?


And what’s the difference between the two?


Here then, are some ways to turn criticisms into positive feedback...

Instead of “You did it wrong”, how about something like “You’ll do better next time if you...” ?

Try focusing on the solution and not the problem. Rather than “This is useless”, why not say “This could be more useful if...”?

Use modals like would, could and might to ‘soften the blow’. Instead of “That’s stupid”, try “It might be wiser to...

Use pronouns like ‘we’ and ‘us’. Rather than blurting out “You really screwed that up!”, try going for something like “I think we made a mistake with this”.

And so on and so forth. Of course, there are some people in this world who deserve no tact. So, with that in mind, Uncle Patrick, I think you are rude, obnoxious, irritating and an idiot... and my children’s children’s children agree. How’s that for straightforward, no-nonsense and direct?

I’ll see you in court.

By Danny

Link: Danny's 'How to avoid a direct answer'