Tact Wins Many Friends
| Tact is difficult to define and hard to cultivate, but it is indispensable to one who wishes to get on in the world soon and smoothly. Talent is no match for tact. We see its failure everywhere. In the race of life, commonsense has the right of way.
It is believed that Indians are easy mannered and quick to make friends. That, they are the most tolerant of all nations. We do not take offence easily. We are ready to compromise. But we are not noted for our tact.
It is a strange fact that we, who so dislike cruelty, are at the same time reserved and aloof in our manner when associating with strangers. It would seem as though our control of our feelings has made us to a certain extent stiff, stoical and unsociable.
Those who have travelled abroad have always noticed that our aloofness is a serious obstacle to the increase of our friends. We hesitate to associate with others. We are stiff and formal. We are easy mannered only with those of our own race. This may earn a certain respect, but it does not make us popular. We appear to be indifferent to the opinions of other people.
There is snobbery, as we know, in all countries, but in India we seem to have developed a cult of aloofness. It has shaped the character of our well-educated young men. From the point of view of handling people, it is a serious defect.
Even the influence of our public schools has not helped to make us more tactful and competent in handling other people.
Originally, most of our public schools were started to educate the wards of poor men. But, public schools now exist for a very different purpose. They create what is thought to be a higher social caste. They are believed to make young lads superior by giving them a finer polish. Unquestionably, they do develop a high type of character. But they also neglect elements in character that make a man more useful and successful.
This class-conscious education has not helped us to solve our problems. An opinion has been created that it is "bad form" to be efficient or enthusiastic or genial. Impertinence has had its day. We are not as interested as our ancestors were in the order of precedence. The castes are being wiped out. Anybody today, who becomes a party leader, can be Prime Minister. Any man can be in the Cabinet. The "ruling class" no longer rules.
Educated people will be starched and stiffened by the old caste feeling. Our men will be ripened, not hardened, by education. Emphasis will not be laid on trivial accomplishments and knowledge of the dead languages. Young man is fitted for the duties of life until he learns to appreciate the good qualities of other people, until he knows how to mix with them and win them to cooperate with him in the carrying out of his purpose. It is more important to be friendly than to read the Greek classics, vastly more important to be tactful and genial than to have been four years at any University!
The day has gone when a man could boast of his superiority. These are days of cooperation and interdependence. We have fellow-workers. We are all in groups. We are held up or pulled down by public opinion. We stand by what other people think of us. When we use the word "tact" we do not mean strategy. Do not mean trickiness or deceit. We know that it is bad policy to fool people. As Abraham Lincoln once said, "you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of people all of the time."
Every man is found out sooner or later for what he is. There are sharp eyes watching every man. Hardly ever does a tricky unreliable man make permanent success.
By tact we mean common sense and courtesy as applied to pleasing or influencing of other people. In the upper layer of business life we do not fool people nor lay traps for them. We win them by our manner and by methods which they approve. When sympathy is added to tact, tact is not a mere matter of manner. It is appreciated as mark of sincerity.
We have learned much in the pool of hard knocks. Strikes and lockouts and bank and lawsuits and loss of trade have taught us much. Why are we now interested in the art of handling people? For centuries we mishandled them. That is the reason.
We are now trying to prevent clashes and conflicts. We are trying to secure goodwill from employees as well as all sections of society. We are trying to reduce friction. We have to appreciate tact as a business-building force, as also as a lubricant of social, personal relationships.
We have learned that it is foolish and costly to thrust our dislikes down other people's throats. We are sure now that our plans are more likely to be carried out if we make people to believe in them. We are learning that a man can win more friends if he does not wear armour and carry a club in his hand.
This is to take a kindly interest in the man whom we are going to deal with. This has a magical effect. Just to consider his point of view makes all the difference between failure and success. A tactful man, when he is talking to an employee or a friend, notices the effect of his words. He tries to secure attention. He observes the effect of his words to the man. He realises that his purpose is to influence the man in his favour, not to antagonise him.
It is not easy for a busy man, overwhelmed with the burden of his own affairs, to give a cordial greeting to visitors who come to his office. In his heart, he regards them as intruders, trespassing upon his time. But he must take himself in hand and be polite. At least, he must be friendly. It was said of one politician: "The trouble with him is that he does not know how to shake hands." This is a serious handicap to any one as well as to a politician. Many men spoil an interview by appearing bored or by giving a clumsy, non-cordial greeting to a visitor.
To offer a limp hand indifferently to a man is like throwing a splash of cold water on him. The first five seconds of greeting make or mar any meeting. Tact is necessary for every man is interested in himself. There are few exceptions to this rule. Naturally, a man is more interested in himself than in anyone else. To interest him, you must talk first about his affairs, not about your own. No one is ever bored or hostile if you talk to him about himself. Talk to a competent man about what he is trying to do. An inventor is interested in what he is trying to invent, and very likely he has lost interest in his earlier inventions. It is wise to talk to a man about his problem, whatever it is. That is what he is thinking about.
Questions are always effective. Almost any man will come out of his shell if you ask him his opinion on a subject that concerns him. Make him a listener and he thinks you are a bore. Ask him questions until he begins to ask you questions. Then you may be sure he is interested.
T.E. Lawrence became the "uncrowned King of Arabia" by learning the Arabic language, by dressing and living like an Arab, by listening to the Arab chiefs, by being intensely interested in their affairs and by helping them to overcome their enemies, the Turks. He became for a time an Arab and won the loyalty of the Arab chiefs to himself.
A tactful managing director gives a complainant a chance to get it off his chest. He lets the man tell him about the grievance. He listens. A grievance is like poison and hearing is like a cure. Then, if the man has been wronged, he can be given justice. And if he has been mistaken, he will be willing to be shown his error. A memory for names and faces is great help to any man. It prevents us from treating as a stranger a man whom we have been before. It is tactless to ask a busy man "Do you remember me?" It is very likely that he does not and he is put in an uncomfortable position. The more tactful way would be to say: "I had the pleasure of seeing you four years ago and I remember quite distinctly what you said to me." We know that in handling people, there is a magical effect in remembering what they like. If a shop assistant says, "I know you prefer grey," the lady is pleased.
If a waiter says, "We have your favourite dish today", the customer is pleased. It is an effective touch of courtesy to remember the wishes and opinions of others.
Tact is a subtle discrimination of not saying what you are itching to say, as it is on your tongue-tip. Say what the situation demands, not what your bile suggests.