It’s Not Only What You Say–It’s HOW You Say It

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  

– Maya Angelou

Do you know a Colleen? Are YOU Colleen?

Colleen is a general manager in a large media company. With the boom of the internet and social media, traditional advertising mediums and venues the company once relied on to bring in revenue are becoming obsolete. Colleen understands that if the company and even her own job are to survive, she and her team must think of innovative and new ways of garnering business.

Colleen is feeling anxious and is under tremendous pressure. Her team was hired to think of new ways to approach old paradigms, and she thinks the ideas they have come up with so far are lukewarm.

Most of her team meetings end with her telling the group their ideas are just plain dumb. She reminds them that their jobs are at stake and questions aloud whether they are the right people for this assignment.

When questioned about the blunt nature of her comments – Colleen answers:

“I have to be honest and authentic. They need to know they are not hitting the mark.”

While we all can probably relate to Colleen’s frustration and need to say something to the team about her observations—HOW she says it will is a critical component of whether the team actually receives her message, rather than getting lost in how they “feel” about Colleen’s delivery of it.

What I see missing in Colleen’s self-reported “transparent authenticity” is the use of  tact in her interactions with others.

Tact involves the ability to tune into another person’s emotions, discern his/her perspective, and adjust the delivery of your own message to acknowledge that empathetic understanding. The ultimate goal of the interaction is to show understanding and empathy for the feelings and perspectives of others.

Being authentic isn’t just about saying whatever pops into your head. I call that unfiltered transparency. For others to actually receive your message and hear what you are saying, you must be skilled in the use of tact.

Being tactful does not mean not being truthful, nor does it mean couching things so they are always positive. Being tactful does mean being attuned to and picking up on the “feeling” tones in an interaction, empathizing with those unspoken feelings, and framing your message to account for those feelings in your actual delivery.

While transparency is important, without tact, it is self-centered. Tact shows you have empathy, that you value what other people are bringing forward, and that you value the relationship you have.

The use of tact acknowledges that you care to preserve the other person’s self-esteem, which allows for emotional safety with you—which is a key component of building trust.

Tact is what I call the personal glue that allows for transparency in an interaction without alienating or denigrating the other person with your message.

Want to increase your tactfulness? Some questions to ask yourself:

  1.  Before I blurt out the emotion I feel, do I pause and think about the framing and how the message will be received?
  2.  Do I think of alternate ways to phrase my comment so that it is both truthful AND acknowledges the other person’s value
  3.  Does my comment maintain the other person’s self-esteem and dignity?
  1. Is my tone superior or am I relaying the message as an equal?
  1. Am I caught up in my own personal fears and judgments when I speak?
  1. Do I articulate that my comment is not intended to be a personal attack and clarify my intentions in making it?
  1. Am I attuned to my own personal insecurities and emotional triggers? Do I attempt to self-manage those?
  1. Do I understand the “feeling” tone of the interaction I am about to have and acknowledge and manage it?

Looking for quick, practical tips and self-management strategies? Check out my book, “The Cure: Remedies for 5 Ailments that Plague Organizations” for more.