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When To Be Blunt And When To Be Tactful
by Greg Baker
3/29/2011 / Leadership
Sometimes your bluntness just gets you into more trouble. Sometimes, your tactfulness doesn't seem to convey the magnitude of the situation or of your feelings. So when should you do either? This article contains guiding, helpful principles for both.
PRINCIPLES FOR TACTFULNESS
Proverbs 25:11 A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.
Ecclesiastes 10:12 The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.
There are several principles that ought to be followed in regards to knowing when a tactful or diplomatic response is better than a blunt one.
1. In all personal relationships. Treat your relationships like you would a fragile and expensive piece of china. Remember that your words can act like a sword (Proverbs 26:22). Unless you have a relationship that is flat out wrong or destructive, treat each one as very special, very important. The strength of these relationships is often determined on the strength of your communication. I believe that God meant for you to find joy and happiness within your relationships-including, naturally, your relationship with Him. Possessions and material wealth is a far, far second. Being blunt and forceful in your relationships will bring more conflict than joy.
2. When you must correct someone. The manner in which you correct someone often determines how they receive it. I understand that there will always be some that take correction badly, no matter how it comes, but even so, your words ought to demonstrate how much you care. It is important to be tactful when you correct someone.
3. When you must talk about other people's relationships. Nothing will make you an enemy faster than appearing to intrude into someone else's business. Telling others how to run their relationships is sure to send the wrong message and to be counterproductive. Learning to be tactful in these situations will help prevent you from making unnecessary enemies.
4. When you are trying to help. Most of us like to help, but how we come across will determine if someone will accept our help or not. People will reject your assistance if they misunderstand your intentions. Even when you aren't trying to correct someone-just want to help-your words may come across as condemning and people don't take to that very well.
5. When you need help or cooperation. Some time ago, a woman called me up asking for help. Normally, I try to help anyone if it is within my means. But this woman, before I even said hello, began to chew me out for the way other people had refused to help her. She went on and on about how no one cared, no one would even try to help, and she made me feel that it was all my fault. Sorry to say, I took offense and told her that with an attitude like that, I'd be surprised if anyone ever helped her. I regret my remarks, but if she would have been more tactful, I probably would have tried to help. She made it so that I didn't want to help.
6. When someone is hurting. Don't be cruel to the grieving. Even if what you say is the truth, a little bit of tactfulness will go a long way in helping someone. When people are hurting, particularly if they went ahead and did something stupid against the advice of others, an 'I told you so' is grievous to that person. It doesn't help. Learn to be tactful around those that are hurt-even if they deserve what they got. They still don't deserve you adding to their pain.
7. When you want someone to do something. This is a big one. Trying to get people to do something that you think they ought to do difficult even if you are tactful. But being blunt will only cause a wall to be raised between the two of you. If you come across as a know it all, bossy, more holier than thou, or even condescending, you'll find people having no wish to do what you want them to do. I've never tasted coffee. The reason for it is just before I went off to college, a man asked me, "Are you taking a large coffee pot with you?" I frowned and replied, "No, I don't drink coffee." He smirked and, in a very annoying voice, countered, "Oh you will. You will." I got so irritated at his 'I know more than you' tone of voice that I vowed I'd never drink coffee. I had nothing against it, per say, but now I had a reason not to. And I haven't. Sound silly? Of course it is, but this happens all too often. Learn to be more tactful.
PRINCIPLES FOR BLUNTNESS
There are times when being blunt is necessary. Although, in my opinion, it is more important to know when you need to be tactful and gracious. These will get you much further in life than being blunt. Still, bluntness does have its place.
Galatians 2:14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
Here we see Paul being blunt about a mistake that Peter had made. In other scriptures, we see Jesus and John the Baptist verbally flogging the Pharisees. Their bluntness is a matter of record, but there is a lesson to be learned from it as well.
Here are a few principles that allow, and even call for, bluntness:
1. When it is vital to get someone's attention. If your child is playing in the middle of the street and a car is approaching, you're not going to be diplomatic about trying to get him to move. You'll start yelling, bluntly, at both your child and the driver hoping to get either or both of their attention to protect your child. Sometimes, it is essential that we get someone's attention. This is usually to keep them from hurting themselves or hurting others.
2. When speaking in crowds or in general terms. It is when you are singling someone out that you ought to be tactful. But telling the truth about, say, political corruption may offend some, but is appreciated by the majority. As a pastor, I often speak bluntly about the social woes that plague our society. Some may not like it. But the majority will appreciate someone who is not going to beat around the bush. Even in casual conversation with only one person, you can be blunt when speaking in general terms. In fact, the bluntness is appreciated and is often preferable to political correctness. You can't appease the masses. So don't try. Be honest in such situations. We live in a society where feelings have trumped relationships. We are more concerned with someone's feelings than we are with establishing good solid relationships. Well, I'm offended at such a preposterous notion. See, you can't please everyone, so in crowds or speaking in general terms, you can be blunt. Not that you must, just that you can.
3. When you must protect someone. People are worth protecting. A good relationship is worth salvaging. If someone comes to you to tear down the reputation of another, send him on a way with a blunt, "I don't listen to trash." If someone tries to seduce my children to try drugs and I catch him, I'll have plenty of blunt words to say. I'm not seeking to change the dealer, but rather to protect my own children. If both are friends, I would revert back to tactfulness. Paul had to protect all the Gentiles from the corruptive thinking that Peter had fallen prey to. This wasn't about Peter as much as it was about thousands and thousands of other people.
4. When you must protect a value. Morals and values are the ties that bind relationships. When two people share the same values and morals they invariably have a closer relationship than those that do not. These values need protecting. If it's just you under attack, you can ignore it. But when it involves others, you may need to go to bat for them. Sometimes bluntness is the best action.
5. After all tactfulness has failed and it's still necessary to say it. There will be times when you try to be tactful and the person you're talking to either just doesn't get it or refuses to hear it. Be sure that it is indeed one of those times before deciding to be blunt. The desire to say something can be stronger than the need to say something. If you still feel that you must be blunt, then this is the time to do it. Be warned, you'll probably cause hurt feelings. So if it comes to this point, be prepared to help heal any injured feelings that you might cause.
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