The Essentials of Communicating with Tact and Diplomacy in the Workplace

Published: Sep 27, 2017
Modified: Apr 09, 2024


Communicating with tact and diplomacy is critical to success for business leaders. When people lack these qualities in their workplace interactions, situations such as this arise:

“They said I lacked tact and diplomacy. They told me my results were great but my affect, the way I came across, demoralized the team. That’s what they told me when they gave me a bonus but didn’t give me the promotion.”

The diplomacy and tact paradox

Over my decades of training and coaching individuals to success, many clients have shared their stories of feeling absolutely lost after missing out on something they had worked hard to obtain. One client said his team was having issues with him and the way he approached them. He was getting resistance, not results. Another client’s manager said he couldn’t give him a plum overseas assignment because his facial expression would offend the customer.

Didn’t get the respect. Didn’t get the assignment. Didn’t get the job. And damaged relationships along the way. But I got the job done. I was a top producer. I just said things as I saw them.

We often don’t realize we have a problem with interacting in a tactful way until we lose an opportunity and feel the pain. Because we are so focused on getting results, we’re not aware of how we come across to others and we forget about relationships. If any of this sounds familiar to you, there is help.

The value of communicating with diplomacy and tact

What are tact and diplomacy? In the AMA course How to Communicate with Diplomacy, Tact and Credibility, diplomacy is defined as “the subtle skillful handling of a situation.” Tact is defined as “consideration in dealing with others and avoiding giving offense.”

First, we need to recognize the value of these key communication skills. Without tact and diplomacy, we lose work, we lose relationships, we lose recognition, we lose respect, and we lose money. What’s at stake for you?

Second, we need to recognize how we currently use tact and diplomacy. Do we stop to assess the needs of the people we’re communicating with and adjust? That’s about the skill of diplomacy. Do we make sure we don’t do or say things in a way that offends others? Recognizing that something that wouldn’t offend us may be offensive to others, that’s tact.

Third, we need to recognize how our lack of tact and diplomacy displays itself:

  • It comes out in facial expression such as frowns and grimaces without explanation, a rolling of the eyes, or sighs of impatience without respectful communication.
  • It shows itself in nonproductive silence as well as the opposite—sarcasm, snarky remarks, and demands without consideration for another’s needs and feelings. Do we make assumptions and judgments without discussions? Do we fail to share responsibility or include others in conversations about things that relate to them?
  • It shows itself in the use of critical, judgmental language instead of specific descriptive statements.

Developing the behaviors of tact and diplomacy

Think you could use a lesson in communicating with tact and diplomacy? We often don’t know how we’re coming across to others. Therefore, we need to get and accept feedback. Identify some people you trust and tell them you’re looking to grow and would appreciate honest feedback about your communication skills. Ask for specifics and examples. Be open and nondefensive.

Ask them where they think you can start your change. What are the behaviors you need to address? Then, identify one behavior to work on. It could be patience or the consideration of others’ needs and feelings. It may be your facial expression, tone, pacing, language, or body language. All of these are aspects of tact and diplomacy that can be improved over time.

Ask these people to be your growth buddy and provide ongoing feedback when they see you doing something well or see you slip. Once you’ve mastered your first targeted behavior, start working on another.

You can do this. Change isn’t going to happen overnight. But the adjustments you make will improve your outcome and can take you to the next level of success. Tact and diplomacy can help you secure the job, promotion, money, and relationship you want.

About The Author

Pam Soden is president of Soden Training & Consulting. During more than 30 years as a training and development professional, she has provided thousands of individuals with skills to become more productive and successful in their careers. Soden is a popular speaker and a top-rated presenter of management and leadership courses for American Management Association. She skillfully facilitates learning for organizations in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.