Soft Skills Spotlight: Tact and Diplomacy

By Robert Half August 27, 2014 at 7:00am

How do you handle sensitive situations in your accounting job? Maybe you clam up to avoid clashes. Or, perhaps, you get upset and say things you later regret. Either way, working on your tact and diplomacy will help.

Isaac Newton called tact “the art of making a point without making an enemy.” As for diplomacy, journalist David Frost once said it’s “the art of letting someone else have your way.” At the end of the day, tact and diplomacy share a common intent: they help you achieve your goals while maintaining good office relations.

Knowing what to say – and what not to say – can help you to mitigate conflict, negotiate with colleagues and avoid hurt feelings. It comes down to thinking about your words before you say (or email) them. Consider the following tips for fine-tuning your tact and diplomacy at work. 

Go for the Win-Win 

Figure out a way for everyone to win – at least a little – in negotiations. It’s easy to be stubborn and focus on your own needs. Instead, take the high road and collaborate for the common good. Along the way, show empathy. Let colleagues know you understand their positions. If you do end up getting your way, others are more likely to be on board with you.

Cool Down Before You Act

If a colleague says or does something to anger you, calm down before you respond. Take some deep breaths, and slowly count to five. If you’re still upset, take more time to collect your thoughts. You can’t afford to say something regrettable that permanently damages the relationship. As the saying goes, act in haste, repent at leisure.

Plan Ahead for Difficult Discussions

If you need to have a tough conversation, plan it out first. Let’s say you supervise an entry-level employee who regularly comes in late. Think about what you'll say to her. Imagine the counterarguments. Try to steer clear of the terms always and never. In addition, avoid making “you” statements that could make her defensive. “I’m concerned about your work hours” comes across less accusatory than “You are never here on time.”

Give Feedback Directly and Privately

Don’t be passive-aggressive. Talking behind someone’s back is a good way to make enemies, and criticizing by email can come back to haunt you. (Whoops, didn’t mean to hit “reply all!") If you have something to say to a coworker, go directly to the offender and have a gentle but firm word in private.

Be Constructive

Know the difference between criticism and constructive feedback. Harsh criticism tears down; constructive feedback helps build up. If your financial analyst’s report has typos and grammatical errors, practice the “feedback sandwich.”

1. Start with a positive: “I appreciate your in-depth financial analysis and accuracy with numbers.”

2. Move on to the constructive feedback: “Let's be careful with typos, though. Can you have someone proofread your reports?”

3. Close with another positive: “Thanks for getting this done before the deadine.”

Tact and diplomacy are important soft skills for accounting and finance professionals. If you want additional help developing your tact and diplomacy, sign up for a soft skills workshop or webinar.

Related post: Soft Skills Spotlight: Adaptability

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