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  • Words, tone, and body language matter.

    Would you rather have fresh fried fish or dead fish boiled in oil? Both describe the same entree, yet one is more appealing than the other. In other cases, a person can use the same words, but the tone and body language can alter how the message is received. The context is very important also. Plays on words or inside jokes land appropriately with people you know well. As leaders, we must be mindful of how and what we say. It is known as reading the room. Bosses who are expressive drivers get a lot done. They tend to care more about talking -at- rather than communicating with others. Some bosses are so into giving orders that they lose track of how their words, tone, and body language affect others. And sadly, some just don’t care.

    Some would argue that bosses don’t need to be overly concerned about how they speak to people, especially subordinates. After all, stockholders just want bosses to do what they need to do to get projects, programs, and other endeavors done on time and within budget; after all their promotion could be on the line. Who has got the time to be concerned about being tactful? Current employees will get over it or they’ll hire new employees who will. I thought that way of thinking was a thing of the past. It was, but it’s returning. Corporate leaders are taking their cues from politicians who are not held accountable for the way they treat those with less power. Showing humility or being empathetic is considered soft.

    If you are one of those people, this blog is not for you. However, if you ever spoke to someone and they walked away looking bewildered or angry and you didn’t know why, you’re in the right place, especially if you don’t want it to happen again. Unless you are the CEO’s offspring, the way you communicate with others could stunt your career. I had an employee who had excellent technical skills, but I had to demote her because she spoke harshly to her subordinates. Accounting was her strong suit, and we needed that skill set, but tact and diplomacy were not so she was stuck in a middle management role.

    To move up the ranks in an organization one must have technical and interpersonal skills in the form of tact and diplomacy. I have found that tact and diplomacy are more important than technical skills in senior-level positions. Using tact and diplomacy can lead to improved relationships with other people and are tools that are used to build and develop mutual respect, which in turn can lead to more successful outcomes and less difficult or stressful communications. Humility, empathy, and resilience are the three values diplomatic people need.

    This is how I have internalized these values. Humility requires that I manage my ego. Every morning I pray that I treat people the way I want to be treated, even if others do not reciprocate. In other words, I am committed to doing the right thing no matter how others treat me. In terms of empathy, I strive to see through others’ eyes, hear through their ears, and feel the world as others feel it. Finally, resilience is so important. I’ve heard that it takes five positive comments to counter one negative comment. I believe that is true. I desire to accept feedback, take what serves me, and discard what does not. If the feedback is harsh, I recover through prayer, meditation, and exercise. If you make humility, empathy, and resilience you will be tactful and diplomatic and the right words will come at the right time, because what and how you say matters.

    How have you used tact and diplomacy worked for you? To learn more about my coaching practice, visit: