There is no argument about the fact that honesty is a fine and stellar quality, and is indeed the best policy. But there are also ways to speak the truth and make it more pleasant and palatable – there is much to be said about tact and diplomacy.
Tact is not about being dishonest or even inaccurate. It is about being more thoughtful and sensitive towards the feelings of others and about trying to preserve their dignity. Tact is about maturity and having the kind of social skills to handle a potential social hot potato. It can make you diplomatic at work and more successful in your relationships.
1. Be polite
This is a good thing to be always, in any circumstance and with anyone. There is never a call for being rude; even when it’s people you are closest to. Most of us enjoy being around people who are polite with us, and we could try and return the complement by being polite back. If you’re making the attempt to be polite and civilized there is that much less chance of you blurting out something hurtful or irrelevant.
2. Respect confidence
If something is told to you in confidence respect that confidence. Telling others someone’s secret not only undermines their faith in you, it also belittles their importance in your life – as though that person and their secrets are not important enough for you to respect. Keeping a confidence is a large part of being tactful.
3. Be discreet
If a woman asks you that classic question: does my bum look fat in this dress, and the honest answer is in the affirmative, the diplomatic way to go about it would be something like this: you could suggest that given the occasion, another dress (perhaps a more flattering one) may be more appropriate. Or you could tell her, that other dress is your personal favorite and wouldn’t she consider wearing it just for you?
4. Be considerate and thoughtful
You may be pressed for time when a friend comes over talk about his problems. The best thing to do would be to spare 5 minutes of time right then (so long as there isn’t a building on fire), and then suggest continuing the discussion over lunch or later in the evening. This makes the person feel cared for and valued.
5. Be mature
This is really another word for the kind of wisdom that comes with age and experience. This is about knowing how to contain a situation to prevent it from escalating into a quarrel or about knowing, quite simply when to shut up because it will simply do no good.
Again this is not about being dishonest or even about not standing up for yourself but about knowing when not to retaliate in kind when someone else is being rude or nasty. By retaliating to bad behavior in the same manner you bring yourself down to that same level. In a sense you debase yourself in a way that you later regret.
Tact is not something that you can learn overnight. But by careful observation and some exercise of restraint, you may find that you are a more pleasant person to be around and one who suddenly seems rather more popular than before!