The Importance of Tact

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The concept of tact is simple. Telling people truths, often harsh truths, without making it seem harsh. Hopefully, it is clear that being truthful is one of the more essential things in life. As a person in technology (and certainly as an editor), we often need to be honest when the truth hurts a bit more than average.

For example, consider the security manager dealing with one of their coworkers who just clicked on a phishing link that caused the company to lose an hour of data (or day or week.) Without more information, it seems clear that the coworker should be escorted off the premises. Well, at least after listening to a 20-hour rant that would take this blog post from a general audience rating to something far closer than a full-on mature rating.

With these extreme consequences in mind, the next step is determining who this security lecture will be directed at. A recent hire, a company veteran, the CIO, maybe even the company’s owner. How you handle this situation requires knowledge of the audience and shovelfuls of tact based on who the perpetrator turns out to be. You probably can’t terminate the owner, but if you are not tactful enough in handling that situation, whoever replaces you will probably be quite tactful when helping you carry your personal effects to the car.

Most of the time, the need is more subtle than this. You might be leading a code review, a design meeting, or tech editing a piece of writing. Letting others know their shortcomings and failures in a way that informs them without crushing them is a delicate balance. For example, coaching a 10-year-old football team (no matter what you think of when you hear football) is far different than coaching a professional team. Even though it is essentially the same game, the necessary skills to be a coach are very different.

On the other hand, there is one person in this world you should not be tactful with. If you want to pause to think of all the funny answers, the webpage will wait as long as you need. Unfortunately, this person who needs the least tact is often the one you are most tactful with, trying to make this person feel better about everything they do.

The person you be the least tactful with is yourself.

If telling your company owner that they were the cause of a million dollars worth of data damage because they clicked on a link that was supposed to help out their private life is hard… telling yourself the same thing is almost impossible. Oh, I was distracted. I thought that was an actual link… everything except that you messed up, and it is your fault, and you must do better.

Most of us have lied to ourselves for so long about so many things we don’t even know the truth. Some of us hold ourselves in such high regard we can’t even see our limitations. Reminding yourself that you aren’t able to do something is one of the most brutal truths we need to tell ourselves.